Why NFTs are bad for the planet

It's all about the blockchain.

Erika Goldring/Getty Images; Avishek Das/Shutterstock; Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images; Hanna Andresdottir/Shutterstock

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs — essentially, one-of-a-kind items that can be bought, sold, traded, and maintained entirely digitally —  have taken the art and collectibles world by storm, creating new opportunities for creating and monetizing digital art, from the virtual equivalent of trading cards to original copies of famous GIFs. But while they continue to grow in popularity and value, there’s another cost associated with these digital tokens that has nothing to do with the price tag: their carbon footprint.

There may be no physical media to hold — no plastic containers produced, no shipping required — but there is a very real and increasing amount of emissions required to power the digital art trade.

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The reason stems from how the blockchain operates and where it draws its energy from. The blockchain keeps a detailed log of transactions — not just yours, but everyone’s — tracking every purchase, sale, trade, and creation or release of something new, be it cryptocurrency or an NFT. Instead of storing it in a central place, the ledger is decentralized and distributed across tens of thousands of computers — allowing many different sources to independently verify each transaction and make sure every bit of data is where it belongs.