This Earth Day, I propose a simple solution to bitcoin’s massive ecological footprint: Bitcoiners should go vegan en masse. (Relax, it's satire.)
Proof-of-work mining is a powerful cryptographic technique that’s necessary for the Bitcoin system to achieve its ends of providing a free and open alternative monetary base. Without it, Bitcoin would lose its strong finality and decentralization, meaning transactions are more likely to be rolled back. It burns energy (a lot of energy) to create a peculiar type of trust.
In doing away with centralized parties in money, Bitcoin has generated a new class of individuals willing to question hierarchies everywhere they are encountered. The most ardent supporters think from first principles, embrace anarchy and distrust any received wisdom. This attitude can have peculiar effects, including the rise of highly restrictive, carnivorous diets, thought to be closer to the ideal state of nature.
“To get to a place where you are interested in Bitcoin, you have to sort of go against the grain and come to your own conclusions,” Neeraj Agrawal, director of communications at Coin Center and budding food influencer, said in a phone call. “If you don't trust established dogma on money, then you wouldn’t on nutrition.”
It’s easy to dismiss crypto carnivory as little more than a meme – it’s certainly an ironic position for some – but there are true believers. Many of the most vocal Bitcoin advocates can also be heard championing diets rich in animal protein.
There’s Saifedean Ammous and Pierre Rochard, who hold court over steak-and-bitcoin dinners. There’s Nic Carter, whose 10 rules for life include “eat meat” and “reject seed oil.” Some, like legendary coder Zooko Wilcox, have long embraced a carnivorous ketogenic diet, seemingly before Bitcoin was around.
The list goes on.
Just as Bitcoin is highly energy intensive, so, too, is modern industrial production of edible flesh. And if you scratch the surface, there’s way less justification for it. Bitcoin provides a public good in the form of an uncensorable, pseudo-anonymous digital currency. Factory farming provides a cheap source of energy-dense food. A chicken in every pot!
However, "intensive animal farming," the industry’s term, has also led to some of the world’s highest carbon and methane emissions, poisoned rivers, the collapse of the family farm, widespread animal cruelty and abuse, exploited workers, cancerous meals, lagoons of feces, clouds of stink and the conditions that could lead to next global pandemic. (Sorry, COVID-19.)
It’s for those reasons, and more, that billionaire crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried has gone vegan.
“You can think of it from a utilitarian perspective,” Bankman-Fried said over Zoom. It divides down to a lifetime of abuse of sentient creatures for a single pleasant meal. “Factory farming is a source of suffering in the world and a man‑made one.”
There’s a genuine debate whether animals suffer the way humans do. It’s a subject too large to tackle here, though there are plenty of reasons to assume that many animals (especially mammals) have cognition and complicated emotions.
Even if you take the line that animals are nothing but machines for people to use, there’s an ideologically aligned reason bitcoiners should go meatless: It’s an industry propped up by debt financing.
Some bitcoiners like to argue that modern carbo-rich diets are an expression of the “fiat mindset,” that the over-abundance of corn sugars and other “body pollutants” stem from government intervention in the food chain, but that’s also the case for the majority of what hangs in your butcher’s window.
Agrawal, who thinks bitcoiners should eat as they please, personally avoids “industrially produced” meat. He spends the extra money to buy the nice, organic, locally or family farmed choice cuts, in bulk, to practice the art of at-home butchery. “It brings you a little bit closer to the source of your food,” he said.
I often do the same. But that’s not a solution available to everyone. And frankly, it’s a lifestyle that’s hard to maintain even for those who can afford it. But it’s also missing the point.
If bitcoiners are committed to combating climate change, what better way to show it than a declaration to sacrifice meat to protect their sacred cow. It’s a public show of defiance, which they love, and a more believable form of industry activism than pretending mining can be wholly and reliably powered with solar or wind energy.
To be sure, Agrawal thinks the idea that bitcoiners “need to atone for using electricity to run data centers” is wrong on the surface. Further, practically, “It’s not going to change anyone's mind.”
All I can say is, if Bitcoin opened your mind, let it also open your heart.
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