LONDON– Tesla boss Elon Musk is a poster kid of low-carbon innovation. Yet the electric carmaker’s backing of bitcoin this week might turbocharge worldwide use of a currency that’s approximated to trigger more pollution than a little country every year.

Tesla revealed on Monday it had purchased $1.5 billion of bitcoin and would soon accept it as payment for cars, sending out the cost of the cryptocurrency though the roof.

So what’s the problem, you may ask? Bitcoin’s virtual, so it’s not like it’s made from paper or plastic, and even metal.

The digital currency is developed via high-powered computer systems, an energy-intensive procedure that currently often depends on fossil fuels, particularly coal, the dirtiest of them all.

At existing rates, such bitcoin “mining” devours about the exact same amount of energy every year as the Netherlands carried out in 2019, the latest available data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Firm reveals.

Bitcoin production is approximated to generate between 22 million and 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka, according to a 2019 study in clinical journal Joule.

The landmark addition of the cryptocurrency in Tesla’s financial investment portfolio could complicate the company’s zero-emissions ethos, according to some investors, at a time when ESG– environmental, social and governance– factors to consider have actually ended up being a major factor for global financiers.

“We are naturally very concerned about the level of carbon dioxide emissions created from bitcoin mining,” stated Ben Dear, CEO of Osmosis Financial Investment Management, a sustainable investor managing around $2.2 billion in properties that holds Tesla stock in numerous portfolios.

“We hope that when Tesla’s bitcoin endeavors are over, they will focus on measuring and divulging to their market their full suite of ecological elements, and if they continue to buy or undoubtedly start mining bitcoin, that they include the pertinent energy consumption data in these disclosures.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Still, it’s not all eco-doom and gloom, and Tesla’s bet on bitcoin comes amidst growing efforts in the cryptocurrency industry to reduce the ecological damage of mining. This motion could be advanced by billionaire entrepreneur Musk, who this week individually provided $100 million for innovations that could pull co2 from the atmosphere or oceans.

The entryway of big corporations into the crypto market could also increase rewards to produce “green bitcoin” using renewable energy, some sustainability professionals state. They include that business could buy carbon credits to compensate too.

Yet in the shorter term, Tesla’s disclosure of its bitcoin investment, made in a securities filing, might indirectly serve to exacerbate the ecological expenses of mining.

Other companies are most likely to follow its lead by purchasing into the currency, financiers and market experts say. Greater need, and greater prices, lead to more miners completing to solve puzzles in the fastest time to win coin, utilizing progressively effective computer systems that require more energy.

“It’s (bitcoin) not a sustainable investment and it’s hard to make it sustainable with the kind of system it is built on,” stated Sanna Setterwall, an expert at corporate sustainability advisory South Pole.

Can Tesla turn bitcoin green?

Quotes on bitcoin’s dependence on fossil fuels versus renewables vary, with comprehensive data on the bitcoin mining industry’s energy mix difficult to come by.

Jobs from Canada to Siberia are pursuing ways to wean bitcoin mining far from nonrenewable fuel sources, or at least to reduce its carbon footprint, and make the currency more palatable to mainstream investors.

SJ Oh, a previous bitcoin trader based in Hong Kong and a self-professed “tree-hugger,” was aware that his enthusiasm for the environment was somewhat at odds with his day task. So a year ago he co-founded Pow.re, a firm that runs green bitcoin mining operations in the Canadian subarctic.

Found in Labrador, Pow.re’s devices work on hydropower, with strategies to repurpose the heat generated by the mining to serve regional farming, heating and other requirements, he said.

“Extremely, I do believe there will be a concerted effort by the bitcoin industry to be environmentally friendly,” said Oh, who believes Musk and his company can come up with better methods.

“Tesla is one of the greenest companies on the planet so I’m sure they’ll figure it out.”

Other tasks aimed at minimizing bitcoin’s carbon effect include that run by an arm of Russian gas producer Gazprom in the Khanty-Mansi region of Siberia.

There, power produced by flare gas– a by-product from oil extraction usually burnt– is used for cryptocurrency mining. The procedure leaves a lower carbon footprint than coal power, stated Gazprom Neft, the unit behind the project.

In theory, blockchain analysis companies say, it is possible to track the source of bitcoin, raising the possibility that a premium might be charged for green bitcoin. Stronger climate modification policies by federal governments worldwide might also help.

“It’s not so much bitcoin that is the issue.” said Yves Bennaim, the founder of 2B4CH, a Switzerland-based cryptocurrency think-tank.

“People are stating it’s energy intensive for that reason it’s contaminating, however that is simply the nature of the energy we are utilizing today. As bitcoin goes up there will be more incentive to make investments in sustainable sources of energy.”

Some bitcoin proponents note, meanwhile, that the existing monetary system with its millions of staff members and computer systems in air-conditioned offices utilizes big quantities of energy too.

‘Goal is earning a profit’

Nevertheless it is early days for such green jobs, and some ESG experts state bitcoin could have a tough task being accepted by mainstream financiers en masse in the foreseeable future.

“I still believe the huge players will refrain from bitcoin for these particular factors – one being really an unfavorable environment angle to it, offered the method it’s mined, and 2, the compliance and ethical concerns connected to it,” said Sasja Beslik, head of sustainable service development at Bank J. Safra Sarasin in Zurich.

Some market gamers and academics warn that the supremacy of Chinese miners and absence of inspiration to swap inexpensive nonrenewable fuel sources for more costly renewables indicates there are few quick fixes to the emissions issue.

Chinese miners account for about 70% of bitcoin production, data from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Alternative Finance reveals. They tend to use renewable energy– primarily hydropower– during the rainy summer season, but fossil fuels– primarily coal– for the remainder of the year.

“Every miner’s goal is making a profit, so they do not care about what sort of energy they utilize, if it is created by hydro, wind, solar or burning coal,” said Jack Liao, CEO of Chinese mining firm LightningAsic, including that government rewards for miners to prefer renewable resource may assist.

Others are less optimistic that substantial change is on the horizon.

“Production of renewables is very unstable, it’s not ideal as a consistent type of power,” stated Alex De Vries, the creator of research study platform Digiconomist.

“The problem is that the miners that will last the longest will be the ones utilizing low-cost nonrenewable fuel sources, merely since it is the least expensive and more stable source.”