climate emergency

Earlier this month, The Verge published an article explaining ‘why gamers hate crypto, and music fans don’t’. It suggested that opposition to games firms launching NFTs has been much louder than in the music world, although some of the artists and music companies who’ve received voluble Twitter backlashes to NFT announcements may disagree.

Whereas the gaming backlash is rooted more in a view that NFTs will be just another way to squeeze money out of players, in music the criticism – particularly that levelled at artists – has often focused on the environmental impact of NFTs and the blockchain technology that underpins them.

Witness the rise of ‘eco-friendly’ NFTs, with companies like OneOf and Serenade talking up the minimal impact of their chosen blockchains: Tezos and Polygon respectively.

“Because of its proof-of-stake design, minting an NFT on Tezos uses over 2M times less energy than other proof-of-work blockchains,” is OneOf’s claim. “Serenade produces NFTs using 1/10th of the energy required to post a tweet. This comes to 1/44,000th of the carbon footprint of a normal NFT” being Serenade’s explanation of Polygon’s benefits.

For artists and labels who are working to reduce their climate impact, these are welcome promises, which they pass on to fans in an effort to avoid any fan unrest. Indeed, sustainability is a key part of the pitch for British band The Wombats’ NFTs collection which launched yesterday. It’s not using Tezos or Polygon, but it claims to be a “carbon negative” project thanks to its use of carbon credits and offsets.

However, outside music there’s a debate going on about just how eco-friendly even the ‘green’ NFTs are. Charity the World Wildlife Fund recently faced the mother of all backlashes after announcing plans for NFTs (using Polygon), and it sparked this blog post from ‘digiconomist’ Alex de Vries, who specialises in providing a “healthy dose of realism” for digital trends in general, and crypto in particular.

His analysis focused on the way Polygon still operates a set of contracts on the main Ethereum network, and claimed that once that is factored in “the carbon footprint of a Polygon transaction is close to 430 grams of CO2… almost 2,100 times more than the optimistic estimate provided by the WWF, illustrating that Polygon is nowhere near as sustainable as claimed”.

This particular company just raised $450m of funding, so it has money to throw at this challenge. But it’s a timely reminder for the music industry and individual artists that being told a particular NFTs platform is eco-friendly is one thing, but actually understanding whether that’s true quite another.

We all – Music Ally included – have a lot to learn about sustainability and blockchain alike, but also about the intersection of the two. If NFTs are going to be a part of the industry’s future, we need to know enough to be able to ask our partners in that world the difficult questions – and to understand the answers.

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