What’s the deal with NFTs?

Twenty years ago, art collectors may have scoffed at the idea of buying an art piece that they could never touch, see or experience in person.

Many blockchain enthusiasts and artists believe the rising popularity of non-fungible tokens, also known as NFTs, may soon prove this mentality outdated.

While NFTs allow artists a platform to sell their art digitally, many argue that digital artworks cause more harm than good. Hosting so many files on the blockchain requires a great deal of energy resulting in a broad negative environmental impact.

What are NFTs?

Non-fungible tokens are essentially a unique image or file on the blockchain that anyone can verify and cannot replicate. Like cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, creators and owners of NFTs usually store their tokens on the Ethereum blockchain.

According to PCMag, “the blockchain is a record that anyone can add to, that nobody can change, and that isn’t controlled by any one person or entity.”

For example, members of the Bored Ape Yacht Club – owners of one of 10,000 ape avatar NFTs – purchased an ape avatar with unique customization items, and only they have access to that ape avatar.

While another user could view or screenshot the avatar and reuse it, anyone could verify on the blockchain that the “original” avatar belongs to, say, Jimmy Fallon or Eminem.

What are the problems with NFTs?

Though NFTs’ exclusive, verifiable nature may draw in many celebrities and those interested in trading, hosting NFTs on the blockchain comes with a hefty environmental price in a time when climate change is a bigger threat than ever.

When creators upload their creations to the blockchain, computers start mining data. As the computers mine, they enact thousands of intricate processes, requiring incredible energy.

According to independent researchers, “[a given] single NFT’s footprint is equivalent to an EU resident’s total electric power consumption for more than a month, with emissions equivalent to driving for 1000 kilometers or flying for 2 hours.”

NFTs’ carbon footprint tends to be incredibly high because most creators host their NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. While the Ethereum blockchain hosts more than just NFTs, the blockchain emits as much carbon as the nation of Sweden annually.

These environmental considerations have caused many artists to avoid posting their art on the Ethereum blockchain, even though the blockchain tends to summon wider recognition and carry more value than posting on the broader internet. 

Joan Lemecier, a French visual artist, is one of those creators that avoids Ethereum.

“With no travel involved, and a mostly digital distribution, this new [NFT] model looks like it has the potential to become a sustainable practice for artists,” Lemecier said on Medium.

“That’s until you understand the magnitude of the environmental impacts of the current blockchain: It is a DISASTER.”

Lemecier and other creators who choose to avoid the Ethereum blockchain may instead use more environmentally friendly alternatives like those listed on CleanNFTs.

While all blockchains emit some carbon, not all use such energy-intensive sources to the same extent as  Ethereum blockchain.