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Green Or Gone

Bitcoin To Tesla, False Promises For Saving The Planet

Tesla recently unveiled its electric semi
Tesla recently unveiled its electric semi

-Analysis-

Bitcoin's blistering price rise has broken a new milestone, passing the $10,000 threshold for the first time. It's a considerable achievement given that the most famous of cryptocurrencies was worth under $1,000 at the beginning of this year, and first reached $2,000 just a few months ago. But it's also a frightening feat.

The fears go beyond the rumblings of a new speculative bubble around the revolutionary (and still largely untested) virtual financial mechanism. Bitcoin's surge is also a cause for concern for a less obvious reason: the environment.

Yes, bitcoins are bad for the planet. Despite being a digital currency, bitcoins exist in limited supply and they need to be "mined," (a virtual variation on the way we mine gold, for instance). This is done by solving extremely complex mathematical problems, which requires a lot of very tangible and very powerful computers — and therefore an awful lot of electricity.

Each Bitcoin transaction now uses as much energy as an average U.S. home does in an entire week.

The more bitcoins are mined, the more difficult these problems become and, consequently, the more computing power and electrical energy is needed.

Recent research conducted by the website Digiconomist has shown that Bitcoin mining alone now consumes more electricity in a year than the whole of Ireland, and more than most African countries. By another measure, each Bitcoin transaction now uses as much energy as an average U.S. home does in an entire week.

But this is not the only innovation, billed as inherently beneficial, that comes with an environmental downside. For years now, electric cars have been touted as a welcome and necessary alternative to internal-combustion vehicles and their CO2 emissions. The most recent electric vehicle unveiling came earlier this month, when Tesla announced Tesla Semi, an electric truck with a 500-mile range and a quick-charge system. And yet, already, questions are being raised about the electrical capabilities required, with a report estimating that one Tesla truck will need the energy of about 4,000 homes to recharge.

This quest for money and (electric) power comes full circle with the recent news that some owners of Tesla vehicles have equipped their cars with computer units so as to be able to mine Bitcoins while charging their cars at free charging stations.

For all the technological prowess behind both Bitcoin and Tesla, the urgent question of ecology requires some rather simple math: Will it raise or lower the temperature of the planet?

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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