why these digital artworks are also an energy sinkhole

These digital property certificates, which have become popular over the last few months, require large amounts of energy.

Digital art is not new to vonMash, which presents its “Afro-Delicious” creations that mix painting, video and sound. But when the South African began considering selling his works as crypto art on a blockchain, he refused.

“I do not fully support it, because of the energy consumption it requires,” he explains.

Sales of works of art in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens, in French) use the same technology as cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. The buyer receives a verified digital token proving that the work is an original work.

Very heavy computer calculations

In fact, NFTs are not works of art per se – which remain accessible to all – but a simple certificate of secure and authenticated ownership, often purchased for speculative purposes and without the possibility of concrete use for the art.

The advantage for artists is that if their work increases in value and is resold, they receive a percentage of each future sale.

“If someone else buys my NFT, I automatically get a share of that money,” vonMash says in his studio in northern Johannesburg. Whereas in the traditional art market, if a buyer pays a hundred dollars and then “sells the work on for 100,000, I would not receive a penny” of this added value.

What worries vonMash like other artists is how these digital tokens are verified.

Ownership of the artwork is authenticated by mathematical puzzles that are so complex that the calculations require entire stocks of computers. Companies that solve these puzzles are rewarded with new tokens, and their solutions add a “block” to the authentication chain.

These calculations use large amounts of energy, often produced by coal-fired power plants.

Most NFTs are currently traded on a platform called Ethereum. Technology watchdog Digiconomist estimates that Ethereum uses as much electricity as the whole of the Netherlands, with a CO2 footprint comparable to Singapore’s.

“The energy it takes to prove authentication of the artwork is insane,” vonMash points out.

These climate issues are being harshly criticized by NFTs. In South Korea, K-pop fans last year launched an energetic campaign against projects from well-known groups such as BTS and ACE.

“Basically, NFTs are a giant pyramid scheme that destroys the environment,” assures a highly retweeted comment from @ChoicewithACE, typically for posts that prompted the group to cancel its offer. BTS’s music label, Hybe, has postponed their launch and is looking for greener alternatives.

In South Africa, concern for the environment is a matter of course for many artists. The Tree Collective has created a platform for artists to sell NFTs and then collaborate with an organization in Cape Town called Greenpop that plants trees to compensate for the emitted carbon.

Fhatuwani Mukheli claims that this system encouraged him to sell two of his NFTs. “The world is constantly changing,” says the artist on his ceiling in the bustling center of Johannesburg. “If I stick to what I know, the bus will run without me.”

Players in the cryptocurrency world, for their part, argue that “mining” (the calculations needed to secure and verify a transaction) can be an opportunity for the development of renewable energy, by increasing the yield of such installations and by using surplus electricity. energy that we do not currently use.

However, VonMash believes that the solution is to bypass Ethereum to place its works on a platform called Cardano using a different authentication system.

Instead of solving increasingly difficult puzzles – consuming electricity – companies can simply donate the tokens they already have.

In fact, they use their money in the form of cryptocurrency to guarantee the authenticity of a piece of digital art. If someone tries to manipulate the system or just makes a mistake, he may lose his financial participation in the network.

The technology behind it can be confusing, but social impact consultant Candida Haynes says “to make it short, there are NFTs with options that are less harmful to the environment.”

“Ultimately, blockchain developers must also commit to sustainability. And be concerned about keeping less nerdy people, including artists, informed,” she says.

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