They might be surging in popularity, but critics are raising concerns about the environmental impact of NFTs.

What is an NFT?

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are assets that exist purely in the digital world, existing only on a blockchain, a kind of “digital ledger”. Many artists are now looking to NFTs as a way to monetise their digital art.

They are giving their work an NFT, meaning one person can buy the original file, in order to own it in a way not previously possible with digital media. Supporters see it as the future of art: a way to monetise and give ownership to what they create online.

Though a new phenomenon, NFTs have sold for huge sums of money. Musician Grimes has sold pieces of digital artwork for a total of $6m, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold an NFT of the first ever tweet for $2.9m.

The Environmental Cost of NFTs

But experts are concerned with the environmental impact of storing so much data on blockchains. Much like cryptocurrency, they use huge amounts of energy to be “mined”. That energy cost increases as more are created. This is because each new blockchain requires a greater amount of computer processing power. Bitcoin mining currently uses more energy annually than the entire country of Argentina.

Critics argue this will only worsen. Architect Chris Precht abandoned plans to sell artwork with NFTs due to the “horrible” carbon emissions created. He argued that to create even one token would use the same amount of energy as he uses in a month.

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Fad or future?

Machines creating NFTs can be run on clean energy, and advocates suggest creating carbon offsets to counter emissions. On the other hand, critics say they still place huge pressure on the grid and eat into energy resources.

For now, it’s unclear whether NFTs will be a passing fad, or a long-term solution for digital artists, but current environmental concerns cannot be ignored.

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