However you feel about it, there’s no doubt that 2021 was crypto’s year, and not just because Elon Musk made Dogecoin jokes on SNL. If you learned what the blockchain is for the first time over the last 12 months, it was very likely because of NFTs.
The digital certificates known as nonfungible tokens have come a long way since the beginning of the year, and an even longer way since the first NFT sale in 2014. In part that was because one NFT artwork sold for $69 million in March—and also because celebrities and prominent institutions got in the game. The NBA got fans to buy virtual copies of their favorite highlight reels. Logan Paul made some NFTs. The New York Times did one, for journalism, and Time magazine did some, for profit. So did the “Charlie Bit My Finger” guy. Snoop Dogg claimed to be behind a pseudonymous NFT-focused Twitter account, which was weird. Even performance venues like New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club are offering up custom NFTs. (Given the woes of the live-music business, it’s hard to blame them.)
If you’re concerned about NFTs’ side effects—a potentially speculation-driven bubble, value instability, the possibility of money laundering, encouraging cruddy art, profiting off another person’s likeness—this development bodes poorly. Perhaps especially if you’re concerned with an issue many, many celebrities claim they’re worried about: global warming.
Crypto’s overall climate impact remains massive, with certain currencies swallowing up entire nations’ worth of processing power from individual computing units and data centers—much of whose power comes from fossil fuels. The most common form of cryptocurrency mining, proof of work, requires a massive amount of processing power. Alternative mining methods have a mixed track record so far, with some ostensibly “sustainable” mining systems still requiring significant amounts of dirty or clean power. And transacting any tokens across the blockchain, whether an NFT or a Litecoin, sucks up the collective energy feeding into the transaction, no matter the product at hand. One estimate claims that a single NFT trade across the much-used Ethereum blockchain uses enough energy that could power an entire house for several days. And this is all so the buyer can have bragging rights about “owning” an image.
Celebrities who are selling NFTs and also claim to care about the environment: What are you doing? Whatever it is, there sure are a lot of you. Here’s a list—surely incomplete—of luminaries who brand themselves as climate-conscious yet have also been hawking NFTs in some form or the other, ensuring this bizarre digital culture product will linger in the public discourse while possibly ruining the art world, the planet, and our collective sanity.
Adrian Grenier: The Entourage star is going to clean up our rampant plastic pollution … through the blockchain? Grenier told CoinGeek that the blockchain will help save the natural environment by “allowing people to exchange value hyperlocally. So it’s going to be less expensive and with more transparency, so we can keep the value that we create within the community.” Uh-huh.
BTS: Don’t worry, K-pop’s notoriously activist stans are already taking the group’s parent company to task for minting NFTs.
Ellen DeGeneres: The talk-show host has said she wants to expand her environmental conservation efforts after ending her program. Hopefully that won’t involve more NFTs, or her good friend George W. Bush.
Grimes: The art-pop artist, who literally made a concept album around the Anthropocene and dated an electric-car guy, has sold $6 million of crypto art with proceeds going to a think tank that promotes carbon capture.
Halsey: See also: Grimes.
Jack Dorsey: I previously laid out the case for why Dorsey’s claim that crypto can help further develop green energy is, at best, dubious. Anyway, the former Twitter CEO sold his first tweet as an NFT back in March, so go figure.
Jaden Smith: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett’s son has done a lot to promote climate advocacy among his young fan base and to provide clean water to communities that lack it. He also has apparently been dabbling in NFTs.
Jane Fonda: Why did this legendary celebrity activist do a voice role for an animated movie made with NFTs?
Livia Firth: The wife of Colin co-founded a consulting firm focused on sustainable business practices. This same firm also awarded young environmental activists with—you guessed it—their own shiny NFTs.
Mark Cuban: The Shark Tank host and NBA team owner has been trying to get humanity worried about the climate for years. Now he seems to think that purchasing carbon offsets—a dubious emissions-reduction mechanism—through an energy-intensive blockchain marketplace will help that cause. Anyway, for those asking, here is his NFT collection:
Reese Witherspoon: Here’s a good tweet:
Spike Lee: In retrospect, many consider Lee’s classic joint Do the Right Thing a prescient warning about climate change. Currently, many also consider his recent crypto shilling to be misguided (though he hasn’t embraced NFTs just yet).