I recently spent a few hundred bucks on Bitcoin, jumping on the bandwagon after its value surge from just $730 a year ago to $11,000.
Since then it rose even more, topping out just under $20,000 at one point before consolidating to around $16,000 today (Dec. 14).
In the long run it could surge even further (conversely, it could collapse completely), but rather than take a chance on the prospect of making an even better return on my investment, I sold my Bitcoin on Wednesday.
The reason had nothing to do with money. I recognized it was a volatile investment going in, and realize I could stand to make a decent amount if I kept my Bitcoin shares.
No – I sold my Bitcoin once I read more about its environmental impacts.
Bitcoin is an energy hog
It's not something that had even crossed my mind when I first bought Bitcoin, but its recent explosion into the national consciousness has brought more attention to the energy required to generate the currency.
"It's digital, how can it be using so much energy?" you ask? Well, because of Bitcoin mining.
There are only 21 million Bitcoin in existence, of which around 4 million are yet to be "mined."
People with the right computers and hardware can take part in mining, which in essence requires them to solve complex computational puzzles in exchange for Bitcoin. BitcoinMining.com has a good explainer here.
It turns out, the hardware required to mine Bitcoin uses a rather significant amount of energy.
And now, with the whole world and its dog suddenly scrambling for Bitcoin, it's resulted in some shocking claims about the amount of global energy generation that is being devoted to it.
Digiconomist last week hit the headlines with its estimate that Bitcoin mining consumes roughly 32.56 terawatt hours. That's more than the annual consumption of entire countries, such as Denmark and Ireland.
This claim has been criticized by some in the industry, who rightly point out that because Bitcoin has no centralized register (as it's unregulated), it's impossible to estimate its true energy cost.
They also argue that Bitcoin's carbon footprint is reducing because of newer, more energy efficient mining technology, and the growth of renewable energy.
But at the same time, ABC Australia notes a lot Bitcoin mining takes place in China, which is still heavily reliant on coal power.
So there remains plenty of debate about the true energy and environmental cost of mining Bitcoin, but the consensus seems to be that it's still a power-hungry endeavor.
Sites including Bitcoinist and Ars Technica are among those to have put together some suggestions about how Bitcoin could reduce its carbon footprint going forward – including the possible proliferation of companies like Austria-based HydroMiner, which uses hydroelectric power to mine Bitcoin.
But until more widespread progress has been made on Bitcoin's environmental credentials, I'll be keeping my money out.