Bitcoin mining company Riot Platforms recently shared a video claiming that its crypto mining operation “has zero carbon emissions,” and if you think that’s ridiculous, wait until you see how it reached that conclusion.
The astonishing claim was made in a video posted to YouTube and Twitter (opens in new tab) which begins with a man in a helmet and hi-vis vest walking through thin, patchy Texas scrub as he tests the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. “We’ve got lots of plants here,” he says, which is the first obvious lie, because quite clearly there are not a lot of plants anywhere nearby. “These plants are consuming CO2 and emitting oxygen, which is fantastic. When we measure CO2 out here, we’re in the green. There are very low levels of CO2.”
At that point, the man in the helmet says that the test is “a great way to establish a baseline,” which will be compared to the CO2 readings inside: “If the number does not go up, then the mining rigs are not emitting CO2.”
This is where I first started feeling confused. Surely the man in the helmet was not going to take his tester into the mining facility and hold it up to a bank of rigs to see how much carbon dioxide they’re kicking out, because that would make no sense. It would barely even qualify as sane. Yet that is exactly what he does.
“Outside, we were at 455 parts per million of CO2,” he says, with a completely straight face, after moving indoors. “Inside, we’re at 428 parts per million of CO2. So CO2 levels actually decrease a little bit by entering this bitcoin mining facility.”
But lo! Perhaps you still have doubts. To reinforce his point, the man in the helmet relocates to an air-cooled mining facility and conducts another test, finding 452 parts per million CO2 in the air. Even more impressively, he conducts yet another test at the exhaust area of the mining rigs, and gets identical results.
“I think the science is conclusive,” the man in the helmet says. “The data shows bitcoin mining does not emit any CO2.”
The video is way too late to be an April Fool’s gag—it was posted on April 10—and there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that it’s anything but serious. It’s possible that I’m falling victim to Poe’s Law (opens in new tab) here, the famed internet adage stating that “without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, any parodic or sarcastic expression of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of those views.” But I can’t shake the feeling that the video was posted unironically, not because Riot Platforms believes any of that nonsense, but because it wants to take advantage of viewers who don’t know any better.
The video was shared on the same day that Riot Platforms posted a furious reply to a New York Times report entitled “The Real-World Costs of the Digital Race for Bitcoin (opens in new tab),” which dug into the outsized demands that large-scale bitcoin mining puts on the power grid and the negative impacts on the environment that result. Riot Platforms’ response (opens in new tab) characterized the report as “politically driven” and said it was “full of distortions and outright falsehoods,” while making the same ridiculous claim as the video.
“To be clear, our bitcoin mining operations do not generate any greenhouse gas emissions, similar to any other data center for Facebook, Amazon or Google—yet we have been singled out,” Riot Platforms said. “Our data center uses electricity from the Texas grid, which is the cleanest and most renewable energy-sourced grid in the United States.
“This reporting appears to be driven by fringe political interests, but we will not be deterred from our core mission of helping to build a global, universally accessible network for Bitcoin and supportive, resilient communities where our operations are located.”
Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time bitcoin miners have played this kind of idiotic linguistic stick-and-move to defend their crappy pseudo-industry. In a letter (opens in new tab) sent to the US Environmental Protection Agency in May 2022, the heads of numerous crypto-mining companies made the same claim, stating that “bitcoin miners have no emissions whatsoever.” That letter at least conceded that emissions were generated “at the power generation source upstream from the datacenters,” but then asserted that somebody was going to use that power anyway, so it might as well be crypto miners.
Nic Carter of venture capital firm Castle Island Ventures, one of the top signatories of that letter, told the New York Times that he was playing a “language game” with the EPA because—much like Riot Platforms—he felt the bitcoin mining industry was being unfairly singled out for its grotesque, rapacious, and utterly pointless abuse of the power grid.
But playing those games in a letter to the head of the EPA, who at least in theory will know better than to fall for it, is a far cry from doing it in a statement meant for public consumption, particularly when you know full well that much of that public doesn’t have an understanding of what bitcoin is, how it’s generated, or how much power is being used to mine it. It is grossly dishonest at a bare minimum.
Sooner or later, as this ridiculous nonsense gains increased attention, I expect Riot Platforms will release another statement saying the whole thing was just a joke, obviously, and that the press is either too stupid to get it, or too humorless to appreciate it. My preemptive response: It’s a joke alright, but not the funny kind.