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Everest Pipkin's Anti-Cryptoart Piece on Medium (name too long)

Started by droqen, November 07, 2021, 02:11:55 PM

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QuoteCryptocurrencies and NFTs are an absolute disaster for so many more reasons than the ecological.

The stated premise is that cryptocurrencies and NFTs are bad for environmental/ecological reasons, as well as some other reasons. I'll try to remember to return to this premise now and then just to stay grounded.

It opens with a description of NFTs.

QuoteAn individual piece of cryptoart is called an NFT. You can think of each NFT as a trading card or a collectible with an individual value that is also affected by the general market value of NFTs as a concept, the Ethereum network and cryptocurrency in general.[..]

I think this is where I initially got the implication that NFTs are an "all-or-nothing" sort of thing, encapsulated in this bolded statement. To buy or sell cryptoart is to lend legitimacy to the entire machine. How much? There's no attempt to make a judgement call here.

QuoteCryptoart is bought and sold with- and has its value calculated in- Ethereum[..]

Numbers vary, but minting artwork on the blockchain uses somewhere between weeks, months, years, (and in rare instances decades) of an average EU or US citizen's energy consumption. (You can see the energy usage and emissions of individual NFTs at cryptoart.wtf.)

[This] kind of gleeful wastefulness is [..] a crime against humanity.

I'm actually quite interested in checking out the environmental impact of individual NFTs and to compare that against the environmental impact of other uses of technology! (droqen intermission)


QuoteCryptoArt.wtf was designed to share the best available information about the energy use and environmental impact of the growing Proof-of-Work (PoW) based CryptoArt and NFT markets.

Okay, so this is strictly covering proof-of-work based cryptoart.

QuoteUnfortunately, the information on this website has been used as a tool for abuse and harassment, so I am taking the site offline.


QuoteSince the release of this website in December 2020, there have been a plethora of articles reflecting on the CryptoArt market. For a very brief list of resources, please see:

- Toward a New Ecology of Crypto Art: A Hybrid Manifesto: A collection of short essays presenting a number of different perspectives
- A guide to more sustainable CryptoArt
- Cumulative footprints for Ethereum based PoW CryptoArt marketplaces.
- Bitcoin and other PoW coins are an ESG nightmare for a comprehensive survey of the PoW industry
- Carbon.fyi to calculate emissions for a single Ethereum wallet or contract

Well, hell, I absolutely do not have time to recursively break down every one of these links!

Quote from: Geert LovinkThe crypto cult is now too much of an end in itself, ruled by an invisible "pump 'n' dump" mob whose marketplace is fertile terrain in which to funnel "funny money." After a decade of cloistered currency and token speculation it's time to focus on the user rather than cultivating more toxic masculinity and the hoarding of "digital gold."


Yet the magnitude of possibilities is also exciting, and this is why so many young people are involved. We all feel we're part of an alchemical movement aiming to redefine money with the potential for a radical redistribution of wealth.

But unless the crypto art community addresses this issue explicitly, it will be complicit and a victim, destined to stand by as money moves on and either solidifies into real assets or evaporates.

From the first link, there is a call for "the crypto art community" to address this issue. What would this look like?
1. Who is being called to action here?
2. And to what action, specifically?


OK, let's not forget why I checked out cryptoart.wtf in the first place. What's the environmental impact of an NFT? Like, let's say one person mints one NFT. Or a thousand. But they intentionally do it on a low-environmental-impact blockchain. Is that NFT going to play a significant part in the ongoing killing of our Earth?

It's also important to acknowledge the possibility that this will cause indirect harm by supporting the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies and NFT in general, but regarding solely the issue of PoW crypto's environmental impact, is it more helpful to be against all NFTs and crypto in general, or to be against PoW crypto specifically?

I used the website carbon.fyi and a random Ethereum address I found simply by searching 'Ethereum address'. (I seriously don't know the difference between Ethereum addresses or how to pick 'em. This one seems fine for my purposes.)

QuoteThis address initiated 38 ETH transactions consuming 3,321,669 gas.

In total, this address is responsible for 601 kilograms of CO₂ emissions.

Yikes. How much gas is that?

Quote from: Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies CalculatorThe sum of the greenhouse gas emissions you entered above is of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent. This is equivalent to: 0.601 Metric Tons

CO₂ emissions from 67.6 gallons of gasoline consumed
Greenhouse gas emissions avoided by 22.8 Incandescent lamps switched to LEDs
link to calculator

This is a little too abstract for me... I mean that's obviously a lot of liquid, but seriously, 22.8 lights? That seems like not a whole lot? Or maybe lights are not that impactful? OK what about just... uhh... like, how bad is Facebook?

Quote from: Katie Collins, CNETEvery one of Facebook's 2.85 million users produces 12 grams of carbon dioxide by using the company's services every year. That's 25 times better than in 2016, when each user produced a little less than 300 grams of CO2 annually.

Yeah, that's more like it! So, we can look at that one single ETH wallet and say that across its lifetime, one ETH wallet = 600,000 grams of CO2 and one Facebook user (across a year) = 300 grams of CO2.

an aside: I'm using facebook's 2016 numbers because i don't understand the mechanics of CARBON OFFSETTING, and the real issue is consuming energy. i don't care if facebook is paying off the carbon demons or using green energy individually, what i care about is the proportion of worldwide carbon damage being done. one company being net carbon zero doesn't help if they're just making green energy more expensive and other people are generating more carbon as a result. is this a bad take? i dunno, i'm not researching it closely right now.

That single person's ETH wallet is emitting as much CO2 as 2000 people using Facebook in a year. (Or one person using Facebook for 2000 years, ha ha ha.)

So let's convert the ETH wallet to a different (proof-of-stake) wallet's environmental impact.

Yeah, here it is. Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake: the Ecological Footprint

QuoteHow much energy do Bitcoin and Ethereum consume? How do they compare to Tezos' energy consumption, and that of newer blockchains?


Some estimates of Ethereum's annual energy consumption place it at around 26TWh, a draw of 3 gigawatts, comparable to Ecuador, a country of 17 million people.


This gives us an energy consumption minimum for the Tezos network of about 10.5MWh per year, and a possible (though difficult to measure) likely maximum in the range of 350MWh/year.


Furthermore, as we note elsewhere, the Tezos network is unlikely to require substantially more energy as it grows, evolves, and gains value. Indeed, thanks to technical improvements, it may require significantly less energy over time.

There is also this nice graph:

So, my math isn't going to be as clean as I want it to be... this is talking about annual power usage by an entire network, not per individual transaction... but I'm still going to just ballpark it like an idiot.

According to their graph, Tezos: 0.00006TWh and Ethereum: 26TWh.
Tezos ~= Ethereum * 433,333
If this random ETH wallet is 2000 people using facebook for a year, then a random Tezos wallet is 0.0046 people using facebook for a year. Its ecological footprint represents, like, one person using facebook for... a little under two days. That Seems fine to me. Even if it's off by a multiple of 100, meaning a random Tezos wallet is one person using facebook for like 150~200 days, if I'm not shaming facebook users for using that platform for a year then i'm certainly not going to shame someone for doing the same amount of ecological damage by engaging with crypto.


now returning to our regularly scheduled reading of


QuoteWhy does cryptoart waste so much energy?
QuoteHow does cryptocurrency generate value, and why is this a problem?
These sections are about Proof of Work. I think it's important to acknowledge the damage done by Bitcoin and Ethereum and any other Proof of Work systems, as well as the people who knowingly continued to use these systems, but Pipkin's piece is about CRYPTOART.

Quotein a digital context [..] any scarcity is artificial, a process that demands ever more energy, ever more resources lost to continue to operate and return, for no other reason than to insure that tomorrow it will be even more expensive- which makes the wastefulness of today a good investment.

This is why cryptocurrency is valuable. [..]

All that cryptocurrency does is abstract resources into a market by making those resources unavailable to the future.

Beautifully written, but the implication here (actually, it is the statement being made explicitly) is that the only reason people value cryptoart is because it's destructive.

That implication is not true.


I don't think I need to explain why it's not true? Think about it for a while. It's a beautifully written little metaphor and highly persuasive, but making a claim like this about cause-and-effect is storytelling. It's a nice story about the evils of cryptocurrency. It's fiction.


QuoteAren't there alternatives to Proof of work?

[Ecological problem aside] there are other, obvious problems with PoS (and various other proofs), which are that to more or less degrees they don't address any of the problems with access to cryptocurrency relying on existing wealth.

[..]there is not a schema that doesn't reward those who already are already wealthy, who are already bought in, who already have excess capital or access to outsized computational power. Almost universally they grant power to the already powerful.

Existing established systems already grant power to the already powerful.

[Had a sudden realization.]


Intermission. droqen's sudden realization

I like to play with existing systems, because I like to play with everything.

What I've observed in myself as a 'fear of playing with money' is symptomatic of a worldview of rejecting existing systems when they are bad. Is this a valuable worldview? I'd rather deal with the world as it is, than reject it and refuse to engage with bad things. bad people. bad systems. bad ideas.

Pipkin's rejection of PoS systems because they "grant power to the already powerful" is because these systems connect to the real world the way things really are, and the way things currently are is: power exists. As long as power exists and means what it does, power can be used to grant oneself more power.

That is, power is an abstract concept that describes how much an entity can affect the world.

There is no system that reads an individual's power variable and rewards people for having a high power variable by allowing them to change things more. Power is literally just the word that is used to describe the state of being able to change things more.

In the case of a cryptocurrency network or any sort of organization or system, something has to make it function. Excess capital and outsized computational power enable proof of stake systems to function. I'm not much of an organizer, but when I organize things, I value individuals who step up and help out.

Maybe these are the ever-widening cracks in the idea that people's productivity matters. Slowly, that concept will die as technology takes over things that once only people could do, and only people could be valued for.

What do we do?


QuoteUnlike a Ponzi scheme, there is no guarantee that it will all collapse someday- but the value continuing to rise absolutely depends on ever more users joining the network, using coins, and competing to mine them.

Currently, most value comes from being valued by other people. This seems like the human way to do things. But what will happen as technology becomes more and more valuable? People will become less and less valuable by comparison.

Given that most value (currently) comes from being valued by other people, the value of everything and anything continuing to rise depends on "ever more users joining the network," for various definitions of network, and expending their effort and personal time on the things valued by the network -- i.e., the people in it.'

Quotethe exact same system with the outsized computational power removed is still one that rewards early adopters and those with existing wealth, all on the backs of people convinced that if they join today, maybe they too will get rich.

This argument is built on the idea that someone would only ever get into cryptoart to "get rich." It does reward early adopters and those with existing wealth, but on whose backs? On the backs of the people who are interested in cryptoart and -currency and therefore use the platform. Is every one of those people necessarily a get-rich-quick scheme sucker?


QuoteOkay, now cryptoart.
I spent the first half of this essay focused on cryptocurrency rather than cryptoart for two reasons: the first is because to understand the problems with cryptoart, it is essential to understand how value functions in a cryptocurrency marketplace.


Quoteartists pay "gas fees"[..]
These fees [..] vary between $40-$1000. These are up front buy-in costs generally borne by the artist that have no guarantee of being returned via sale- and many NFTs sit minted but unsold, with the artist having paid for the privilege.

On cheaper blockchains this is not as bad, of course! But this upfront cost does suck.

Quotethere is nothing in place within the technology of an NFT to guarantee that they respect existing copyright (artists have already seen their work minted and sold without their consent, sometimes still with their names attached!)

and this is very very bad. The lack of oversight or legal recourseability means NFTs exist in a sort of wild west, and bad things are enabled by its structure. It's funny how piracy doesn't bother me in the slightest, but this does, even though in both cases the original artist isn't being harmed in any way just because someone isn't paying them who might not have paid anyway.


I started writing this close reading because during the writing of my primordial soup post on NFTs, a friend (who might not want to be named?) linked me to it, and I thought I would give it a re-read, and in that thread I had some thoughts. I read it once prior to making Cruel World; it was one of the things that exposed me to the world of NFTs in the first place!

Quote from: Everest PipkinI've been working in digital spaces making artwork since well before cryptocurrency was around, and lack of scarcity is the only thing we've got.

Digital files don't have that much going for them. [..]

What digital files and digital artists do have is duplicatability. [..]

This is it! This is the one thing!

In context of the piece, this reads as a self-deprecating acknowledgement of the medium's faults -- "Digital art is flawed but we work with it anyway!" But it only really has value as an oppositional stance to digital scarcity. As a whole statement, it does digital art, and its artists, a disservice by describing many of the medium's potentially beautiful, and surely true, qualities as weaknesses.

I'm as upset about this as I was before, even with my opposite-of-rose-tinted-glasses off my face.

A lack of scarcity is absolutely not "the only thing" that digital art has going for it, and digital artists can appreciate so many more things about their medium than that. This flattening of the landscape only seems so important when we're busy preparing our battlements for the war against NFTs. It's a wasteful and harmful consequence, simplifying an art form down to only the things that help win a war like this.

We don't need these battle lines. They threaten to make us ruin our art so that we can better embody not-NFTs.


Pipkin makes some beautiful observations about digital art in the space I've excised, and I'd like to include it here for completeness. The duplicatability of digital art is a beautiful aspect of digital art that I like to see honoured here, in this way. But it can't come at the cost of everything else that digital artists might choose to love or respect about the art form.

Quote from: PipkinWhat digital files and digital artists do have is duplicatability. There is no original file. When I make a copy of a text document, 3d model, or game and give it to you we both have the original. We're both having a first-hand experience. We both are engaging with the work wholly as itself, not second-hand documentation.

[..] Digital artists have media that can proliferate over a network and be held by many people at once without cheapening or breaking the aura of a first-hand experience.

You can read the full section here.


QuoteAnd yet, I see you live in society.

This section is primarily focused on proof of work cryptocurrency. (I agree with basically all of it! You should read it.)

But it concludes in this way again, making the below claim (which I've already argued against earlier) that cryptocurrency and cryptoart gain value fundamentally because of the ecological damage. Proof-of-stake systems exist. This is not an entirely outdated idea, since proof-of-work systems definitely continue to exist and be popular, but it applies strictly to these proof-of-work systems.

Quotecryptocurrency and cryptoart are not bad for the environment accidentally- they are not simply bolted onto this blundering machine and cannot just be taken off (the technology of a proof of work-based system almost guarantees this). And even if we manage to reduce those costs to a palatable number, cryptocurrency AND cryptoart are still fundamentally valuable because they burn energy.

To repeat the common maxim, the purpose of a system is what it does. Cryptocurrencies turn sunk energy cost into futures.

If that is the value system we are building, we are doomed.


Quote[..] beyond the ecological the remaining qualities of cryptoart are deeply worrying.

QuoteCryptoart remakes digital artworks as primarily tokens of monetary worth, content and concept secondary to an asset that has market value.

Cryptoart creates artificial scarcity for digital objects, creating an "original" which can be owned for the purpose of resale.

Digital objects do not currently have a concept of 'ownership which can be resold.' (As far as I'm aware,) There is no actual scarcity being applied to the digital artworks as we know them. There is also beauty to be found in scarcity; I design games, and everything about game design is predicated on artificial barriers. (Though as I read and think more about NFTs I recognize it's something I hate, actually, and have been working against for years, to questionable success. See NO DOORS, where I'll continue to think on this.)

QuoteCryptoart recreates some of the worst aspects of existing art markets, pitting the super-stardom of those who have gotten lucky or who already had money and connections to play with against the realities of countless others who will see no such return.

Existing digital art platforms and communities also have this problem? See: The Indie Bubble.

QuoteCryptoart offers no intellectual property protection and there is no regulatory structure in place to keep copyrighted materials from being minted into and sold as NFTs, with or without the consent of the creator or copyright holder. Once an NFT is minted, there is no way to remove it from the blockchain or secondary market.

Cryptoart smart contracts offer no legal protection, and any talk of contracts baked into the NFT "requiring resales to cut in the artist" or "compensate gallery workers" depend entirely on the goodwill of the purchaser.

Cryptoart lets a few artist early adopters get rich from a system made to reward investors, not artists.

(Regarding the previous two or three quotes: I really don't know much, but isn't the whole thing about cryptoart that artists automatically get a cut, that it's technologically baked-in as much as any of the other problematic stuff? e.g. I thought the smart contract and the artist cut was as true as "there is no way to remove it from the blockchain," by the exact same mechanism. Sucks if not true!)

(I did a bit of research and, no, smart contracts do seem to be automatically enforced and not removable, at least on the (unforgivable, Proof-of-Work) Ethereum blockchain. (Seriously, don't fuckin use Ethereum. At the time of writing this, everything Pipkin says applies 100% to Ethereum and Bitcoin IMO, regardless of all my questioning.))

QuoteI understand first-hand the desperation of trying to live in a world that has systemically undervalued and undercut the arts, and how compelling a vision of escape can be. I truly do want to live to see the world that rewards artists for making the work they would like to make without asking them to jeopardize their health, stability, and creative integrity. This is not just my political belief- it is a desire that would directly benefit me and those I love. It is a future I have to believe in to keep going every day.

I have thoughts about this. I think we need to go beyond "wanting to live to see the world that rewards artists for making the work they would like to make." We need to, first, learn how to make the work we like to make -- that can be a hard, personal battle. And, we need to make an effort to find these world-systems that reward us and the artists we care about for making this work -- as I grow as an artist I've come to believe that in general the work of actually constructing these world-systems is beyond me and most artists I know -- not in a technical skills sense, but in the sense that the mindset necessary for their creation is incompatible with the mindset necessary for creating art.

Governments and economies and massive systems and things like that are not works of art.

Finally, I disagree with the argument put forth that NFTs and cryptoart must be ignored whole-cloth in order to make moves towards this dream future... but I agree with the dream. And I agree with about half of Pipkin's final statement.

QuoteLet this whole horrible chapter of history convince you that money is fake, we can do anything with it we want, and that we do not want cryptoart.

Money is fake.

We can do anything with it we want.