ISSUE: NFTs, who needs ‘em


Collegian Editorial Board

We’ve all heard of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) by now, even if we don’t know exactly what they are. They’ve been dominating the internet as of late, and celebrities like Snoop Dogg, LinGrimes and even William Shatner have created their own tokens.

For those still confused about the whole thing, NFTs are unique, non-transferable digital products. Most of them are digital art, but they can also include music, videos or, in the case of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, an autographed NFT of his first tweet in which he so movingly wrote, “just setting up my twttr.”

Most NFTs run on the Ethereum blockchain (a kind of digital ledger logged across multiple computers that can’t be retroactively changed) that uses a type of cryptocurrency called “ether.” Ethereum is known for its use of “smart contracts:” contract programs written directly into the code of the blockchain that removes the need for third parties in the transaction, like how a bank takes money from one party and transfers it to another.

We’ve also heard by now that NFTs are bad for a long list of reasons.

One of the main problems is the nature of the “right-click.” Even if someone owns an NFT, there is very little stopping the rest of us from simply downloading that image anyway. Technology news website “The Verge” puts it well: only one person can own an original Monet, but anyone can buy prints of it.

Sure, there are some benefits to NFTs: artists looking to make money can sell their art on the platforms, and many buyers want to support said artists. And if someone wants to spend millions of dollars for a picture of a cartoon monkey, that’s their business.

The real issue is the negative environmental effects NFTs could have. 

The sheer amount of energy used to power the servers supporting NFTs, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies creates a huge problem. According to “The Verge,” Ethereum uses roughly the same amount of energy in a year as the entire country of Libya does in a year.

And because a lot of power grids powering these programs still run on fossil fuels, that’s a lot of dangerous emissions to go along with the electricity being sucked up.

While blockchains like Ethereum say there are ways to lower these emissions, few have made the change, continuing their harmful effects on an already crippled environment.

Overall, NFTs are hardly more than a new form of art elitism where the mega-rich can collect digital products like trading cards that the rest of us are more than capable of downloading for free anyway.