Should we rather disconnect Netflix, or Bitcoin? The question may seem absurd. However, the question of the social utility of BTC is often at the heart of criticism. But for equal power consumption, is Netflix really more socially useful than bitcoin?
The social utility of bitcoin in question
The question of the social utility of Bitcoin comes up regularly to feed the debates. Is it really worth it in terms of the energy consumed by the network? The question seems legitimate. But it should also apply to other digital services of our societies. ” For someone who thinks bitcoin is a giant casino that just allows speculation, for sure bitcoin will always consume too much energy »Alexander Stachchenko reminds the media Numerama.
Because if we consider Bitcoin from the point of view of collective emancipation, it seems at first glance more “useful” than a streaming entertainment platform. Bitcoin offers a decentralized currency, a bulwark against monetary policies that favor the markets as during the crisis of the subprime of 2008. The banks had then been bailed out with hundreds of billions (of public money) created via debt. It is this event that precipitated the start of bitcoin in 2009.
We must first recognize this: it is very difficult to assess the power consumption of services as vast as the Internet, Netflix, Bitcoin or Google’s online advertising. However, a few estimates give us an idea of the energy costs of these digital services. Thus, streaming consumes energy. Lot of energy. According to ShiftProject ” With 170 million subscribers worldwide, based on a consumption of 2 hours of Netflix per day, the platform represents an electricity consumption of around 94 TWh “.
The huge consumption of Netflix (and streaming)
Still, there are other streaming-specific issues. Indeed, this practice encourages people to equip themselves with ever more efficient equipment: smartphones, televisions, processors… It is an entire industry that is extremely resource-intensive (and not just energy-intensive) which is necessary for streaming. Because in reality, it is the manufacture of electronic parts and components that consume the most. And again, we do not count the frantic race for audiovisual productions, filming and their CO2 emissions…
But the same criticisms can be made of bitcoin. The network today depends on sophisticated mining devices, requiring high-tech graphics cards. Numerama, reports a Cambridge study that the consumption of BTC at 95.42 TWh. A figure very close to the consumption of Netflix. However, bitcoin seems to generate less energy expenditure with regard to its everyday use. All you need is an old PC to transfer bitcoins from one address to another. It is even possible to exchange BTC without internet and without a smartphone, with a simple telephone. Bitcoin does not have a natural tendency to high tech. It does what it was designed to do: provide a secure and uncensorable value exchange protocol, via the blockchain.
Netflix, a company that seeks profit at all costs
In a way, Netflix consumers unknowingly fuel a very speculative system, which exploits streaming like any other business. As a multinational, Netflix must respond to very strong commercial logic. All the more so since its growth has only been made possible by a aggressive growth policy. When it was launched, the service was sold at a loss, at a knockdown price, to attract a “critical mass” of customers, and by absorbing the competition.
Gradually, it was easy for Netflix to gradually increase its prices. The problem is that investors must now be reimbursed at all costs in order to cover production costs. Despite everything, Netflix displays its good intentions and ensures that it takes into account its ecological impact:
Netflix is in the business of entertaining the world, but that mission presupposes the existence of an inhabitable world. It is for this reason that we attach importance to environmental commitment.
Netflix official site
If we can congratulate ourselves on such a position, we must not, however, be fooled. Which multinational can today affirm that it attaches no importance to its impact on the planet?
Bitcoin and Netflix: two opposing models
Bitcoin, on the contrary, is not a business. No leader or leader can claim ownership. Moreover, it is open source: the source code of the protocol is freely available. All over the world, developers are contributing code, discussing, exchanging, and reaching consensus at the protocol level. Some bitcoiners operate nodes without any form of counterpart, except that of contributing to a truly decentralized network.
We could of course mention the fact that Bitcoin uses a good part of carbon-free energy, that it makes it possible to recover waste energy (unused energy), for example by offering to recover losses from the LNG industry. Or that bitcoin allows countries to finance their infrastructure, as is the case with dams or the energy of volcanoes.
A sustainable currency?
One could also find this approach hypocritical, close to the greenwashing. In fact, the important thing is not there. As we have seen, social utility is the overriding argument. It is not necessarily measured by the cost of operation, but rather by the benefits (difficult to measure), regardless of the energy consumption. This is typically the case with the Internet, which is very little called into question today: it is considered to be an asset, an essential basis, despite its far from zero ecological impact. Moreover, the Cambridge researchers behind the study on mining consumption remind us:
” Bitcoin means many things to many people: some see it as a new store of value […] ; others appreciate the underlying value transfer system that enables both payment and settlement functions […], censorship resistant; still others are primarily drawn to the incorruptible ledger function made possible by its tamper-proof public ledger. Therefore, direct comparisons with other seemingly similar activities can only provide a partial, and therefore necessarily incomplete, picture. »
After all, one might also think that neither Netflix nor Bitcoin are worth the cost of running them. It is a very technocritical posture, of course, but which can be understood in view of the state of the world, and in particular the collapse of biodiversity and climate change linked to human activities.
However, bitcoin also invites us to question the monetary functioning of our world. Available in limited quantities, bitcoin is not meant to exist in a world of infinite growth. A design unlike the euro or the dollar: currencies precisely designed for infinite growth of the economy and production. This is why we can also see Bitcoin as the currency of degrowth, certainly imperfect, but which offers at least a step aside, a bifurcation on the monetary subjects which guide the choices of our societies.
So, rather Netflix & chill or Bitcoin & dream?
Receive a digest of news in the world of cryptocurrencies by subscribing to our new service ofdaily and weekly so you don’t miss any of the essential Tremplin.io!