Ecocentricity Blog: Non-Fungible Tokens

By: John A. Lanier
Apr 28, 2021 10:30 AM ET
Campaign: Ecocentricity Blog

Ecocentricity Blog: Non-Fungible Tokens

Longtime readers know my gimmick well by now. I usually come up with some dumb thing to write about that seemingly has nothing to do with the environment, and then I find some way to take a 90-degree turn and make it relevant. Often, my dumb thing is related to Star Wars, cringeworthy wordplay, or, as in the case of a post two weeks ago, dogs eating out of kiddie swimming pools. But every now and again, I don’t have to come up with the dumb thing…sometimes the dumb thing writes itself.

This week is one of those weeks. Behold, I present for your consideration the non-fungible token (NFT). First, let me give you the what before I give you the dumb.* NFTs are digital assets (they can be pictures, documents, PDFs, videos, GIFs, what-have-you) that utilize blockchain technology to make them unique. For instance, an artist could make a digital rendering, slap some blockchain on it, and sell it as a unique art piece. The NBA could take a basketball replay, slap some blockchain on it, and sell it on their Top Shot platform (yes, the NBA is selling basketball replays as a kind of new-age substitute for trading cards). I could finish this blog post, slap some blockchain on it, and then sell it to one of you, my dear readers.

Now here comes the dumb - nothing about NFTs stop people from making copies or having access to its content. It’s not like your NBA Top Shot NFT means that you are the only person in the world who can re-watch Lebron James pin-block Andre Iquodala’s layup attempt in the final two minutes of a tied game seven in the 2016 NBA finals. Literally anyone can watch it by clicking that hyperlink. But if you own that NFT, you’re the only person who can watch the AUTHENTIC copy of it. Which, if you ask me, is dumb.

Here's more of the dumb. People are spending millions on these things! Here’s a recent top ten list of the highest priced NFT sales. On that list is the first ever tweet (sold for $2.9 million with proceeds donated to charity) and whatever the heck a CryptoPunk is (multiple have sold for more than a million dollars). The top of the list was a digital collage that sold for $69.3 million earlier this year.

And finally for your last bit of dumb, in this case the kind that has implications for the wellbeing of the planet and all life on it – NFTs are incredibly energy intensive. Here’s a New York Times article on the rise of NFTs and their impact on the climate.

A remarkable statistic they share: “[A]n average NFT has a stunning environmental footprint of over 200 kilograms of planet-warming carbon, equivalent to driving 500 miles in a typical American gasoline-powered car.” It’s all tied to the way that blockchain works – basically lots of computers have to work very hard to ensure any digital asset’s authenticity can be proven. That also means that other things using blockchain (like Bitcoin) have a similar negative impact on the climate.

So for me, when it comes to NFTs, they stand for “no friggin’ thanks.”

* I want to fully own that this is a “get off my lawn” kind of post, and I’m being flippantly dismissive of something that other people derive genuine enjoyment from and that others derive their employment from. If we were sitting around a table with drinks in hand, my tone would be much more “I just don’t get it.” I fully welcome disagreement if anyone is a strong proponent of NFTs, and please do not construe any part of this blog post as a personal attack against you or your views. Thus endeth my fine print disclaimer.

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