It’s commonly remarked that money is a shared fiction. With cryptocurrencies, the setup is more akin to a shared metafiction, with the genre’s insecurity apparently adding to the thrill. Due to a combination of GameStop-style pumping and boosterish tweets from Elon Musk, the value of Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency founded as a joke, has increased by 8,000% since January. The commodification of cryptocurrency, as it’s been dubbed, is clearly a significant event in the financial world. It’s also significant for the rest of the world. This is especially true in the case of Bitcoin, the original cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, like Dogecoin, has recently risen in value. The potential reward from “mining” bitcoin has risen in tandem with the expense of investing in it. Of all, Bitcoin mining is only a metaphor, but the consequences can be just as harmful as the actual thing.

Bitcoin mining operations utilise roughly a hundred and twenty terawatt-hours of electricity each year, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. This is the total annual home power usage in Sweden as a whole. According to the website Digiconomist, a single bitcoin transaction consumes the same amount of energy as an ordinary American household in a month and emits about a million times the amount of carbon dioxide as a single Visa transaction. Does it make sense to devote a Sweden’s worth of electricity to a virtual currency at a time when the world sorely needs to reduce carbon emissions? The response appears to be a resounding nay. Nonetheless, here we are.

The process of creating and accounting for bitcoin is known as mining. Bitcoin transactions are recorded by a decentralised network called a blockchain, rather than being cleared by a bank. Miners compete by solving cryptographic riddles to register the most recent “block” of transactions. The first person to solve the problem gets awarded with a newly created bitcoin. Today, miners receive 6.25 bitcoins per block, which are worth moreover $300,000 at current exchange rates. Nobody knows who came up with the idea for bitcoin, hence no one knows what went through their heads when the mining procedures were created. However, it appears that the contract was made with equity in mind. Anyone dedicating a processor to the project would have a stake in the outcome just as much as anyone else. But, as is so frequently the case, the ideal was quickly shattered.

Specialized computing devices—so-called mining rigs—were quickly determined to be far more effective at solving these issues. Furthermore, these mining companies benefit from economies of scale in their operations. As a result, the mining process, which was once carried out by a loose federation of apparently independent miners using ordinary computing machines, has been significantly consolidated. Because rig “farms,” which are basically server farms, take a lot of energy, bitcoin mining firms prefer to look for low-cost electricity. In today’s world, China accounts for over 70% of bitcoin mining. Russia, as well as Iran, where electricity is subsidised, is a bitcoin-mining hotspot—there are large operations in Siberia, where low temperatures keep rig farms from overheating.

Finding affordable power in the United States, which accounts for around 7% of global bitcoin mining, can be difficult. Miners “devolved upon” Plattsburgh, New York, some 150 miles north of Albany, which derives much of its electricity from hydroelectric dams on the St. Lawrence River, a few years ago. Although the power is very inexpensive, Plattsburgh will have to acquire additional at higher prices after its allocation is depleted. The cost of electricity in Plattsburgh was so high as a result of bitcoin mining that the city put a moratorium on new mining facilities in 2018.

Greenidge Production Holdings, a vertically integrated bitcoin mining and power generation firm based in Upstate New York, announced plans to more than treble its bitcoin-mining activities in Dresden by the fall of 2021, and then more than double again by the end of 2022. It also said it plans to “replicate its vertically integrated mining approach at other power locations.” Greenidge will have to use more and more natural gas to grow its activities in Dresden, resulting in increased greenhouse-gas emissions. Protests have erupted in the Finger Lakes region as a result of the firm’s ambitions. In retaliation, a hundred demonstrators marched to the plant’s gates. Greenidge’s bid to erect four new facilities at the site to house extra mining rigs was granted by the local planning authority. Members of the planning board admitted that they are aware that bitcoin is a huge waste of energy, but that they are obligated by law.

It is arguable whether this is the case. What is beyond discourse at least should be—is that this is not a topic that should be decided by a local planning board. There is no way for New York, or the United States as a whole, to reach its emissions-reduction goals if outdated power plants are turned into bitcoin-mining operations rather than being shut down. Greenidge may be the first cryptocurrency mining company to operate a “wholly-owned power plant,” but it won’t be the last: Digihost International has already applied to the New York State Public Service Commission for approval to own a natural-gas-burning station in Buffalo.

When the world is already is on the precipice of a global climate crisis, with cities running haywire, spending billions in money to protect them from sea-level rise. Increased emissions are pretty much the last thing we need. While bitcoins have surely taken over the world, we need to take a step back and think about the severe consequences of such crypto-mining quests.