The Unreasonable Ecological Cost of #CryptoArt

This article discusses the sheer ecological impact of blockchain technologies, particularly regarding how they are used for both cryptocurrencies and art bidding/transactions. There are links at the beginning of the article to the data as well.

I know that part of the future of Resonate includes plans to integrate blockchain technology, and I am concerned that the enormously wasteful ecological impact of the energy consumption involved in blockchain technologies outweighs the benefits of decentralized databases.

I don’t blame Resonate for looking into blockchain tech; it sounds incredibly attractive in concept if you don’t know that decentralizing databases doesn’t decentralize power consumption. Indeed, I had only a vague notion of how wasteful and ecologically impactful blockchain technology is until reading this article.

The article itself points to alternative approaches that are being worked on, such as more computationally efficient and way more ecologically friendly proof-of-stake algorithms as opposed to current proof-of-work algorithms employed by most blockchains. Still, I urge Resonate to strongly consider alternative approaches that still foster the philosophy and spirit of a cooperative decentralized approach, but without using technologies that wastefully and disproportionately contribute to climate change.

9 Likes

The biggest (by far) contribution to climate change is the destruction of income from recording. It started with piracy and grew exponentially with streaming. As a professional musician, unless you are releasing mainstream pop for the 16 to 30 year olds, you are earning practically zero from staying at home and working on music for release. So what has happened over the last 25 years is that almost ALL professional musicians have been on the road all year. I myself have played in bands that fly multiple times every weekend. Or we will fly from Europe to Asia to play three shows. Club DJs are flying every weekend, every week of the year. Climate change demands we take only two or three flights per year, whereas hundreds of thousands of musicians are taking two to three flights a week.
I don’t know how that fossil fuel footprint compares to blockchain, but we have to rebalance constant touring with patying artists to stay at home and record.

6 Likes

I absolutely agree with you @chriswhittenmusic that forcing musicians to rely on live performance for most of their income is a major problem. However, when we talk about ecological impact, I don’t think they’re comparable with blockchain technology.

The average amount of energy needed for just one artist’s bids & transactions on the CryptoArt NFT marketplace for just two months is equal to over 200 transatlantic flights (according to the data in the article).

This is the equivalent of a band with 3-4 members booking a tour with gigs every single day for two months, alternating every day between locations on either side of the Atlantic ocean, and each member taking a separate transatlantic flight after every single gig.

There’s no way that any given regular touring musician comes even close to the energy consumption per-capita that transactions in the blockchain create in the same time frame.

1 Like

Holy…! Thanks for sharing. I’d love to know the Resonate crew’s thoughts regarding this, as I’d hate to unknowingly contribute to a system that’s so damaging to our ecosystem. It’s encouraging to know there’s improvements to the tech being put forward, and it seems like a good opportunity for Resonate to be at the forefront of change right there.

1 Like

Hey,

As a quick answer to you all. We’re not at the moment working with blockchain or considering it for future projects. Back in 2018, we were indeed actively working with blockchain. It was a collaboration with RChain coop. If you want to learn more about them, head over their website: https://rchain.coop/

Pinging @Nick_m @Richjensen

6 Likes

Thanks @auggod! Yes, exactly right. Resonate is now ‘blockchain-neutral’ . We align with more fundamental ethical principles of green IT, co-operative governance and trust, and use of privacy-respecting platforms that have ethical values similar to our own.

We are open source and W3C standards aligned as much as possible, avoiding proprietary, extractive platforms and technologies wherever we can. Beyond all that, we choose technology that works and is proven to deliver and brings good value so we can keep costs down and give better returns to our members and community.

We don’t think blockchain makes sense yet as a platform for us, but for some key feature or technical service as part of the platform it might one day become useful. We are innovating quite a bit already in crypto for security to protect our community members’ privacy (see our Community Credentials project - which does not involve blockchain)

Let’s keep our technology focused on the job of supporting our music streaming and the community… while keeping a close eye on our total carbon footprint… we don’t travel and we don’t burn carbon to run our platform.

10 Likes

Personally… I have seen some attempts (NOT referring to rchain.coop here) to create what seems to me to be a neo-capitalist crypto-token dystopia involving the trading of music rights in some futures market, with derivatives and the like.

:astonished:

If there is strong human community governance and regulation around such projects, then I’m sure whatever tech there is could control the worst abuses: But it still makes me sad in my heart to see music ‘tokenized’ and traded as property, sold and re-sold without inherent benefit for the artist, perhaps more focused on the speculative issue of a token as a project investment held by speculators.

There are blockchain projects that are well-intentioned, and backed by brilliant emerging science and engineering, but sadly there are far too many ‘pump and dump’ projects in that world, powered by hype… or delusion.

Maybe we will find that our future intentions to support an internal mutual exchange system for our community could benefit from blockchain / token economics. Who knows? …but let’s define the requirements first, the human-centric, ethical ones. We don’t need any more solutions looking for problems right now :slight_smile:

(A personal view only, taking nothing away from the many fantastic people, innovations and learning in crypto going on in the blockchain ‘lab’)

3 Likes

Worthwhile comparing the difference between traditional Proof-of-Work blockchain technologies (like most systems today: bitcoin, etc) and Proof-of-Stake consensus models like the new Ethereum (and the tech Rchain was pursuing).

This is a critical area of concern to all of us working on the project.

Does anyone have stats comparing say, video streaming (Youtube / Netflix / Amazon) to Proof-of Work blockchain and say jet… air travel?

2 Likes

https://www.instagram.com/s/aGlnaGxpZ2h0OjE3OTI4NjI2Mzg2NTAzMjM2?igshid=83bgmz6tf826&story_media_id=2521100022847064012_339611996

http://cryptoart.wtf/

3 Likes

@dogmaskmusic, for the record, Resonate is trialling human-centric and privacy-respecting alternatives to the use of NFTs and the like.

We use W3C standard verifiable credentials without any blockchain. You get a credential to prove you paid the artists a decent reward for their tracks and you keep your credential in a wallet. You control what you disclose and you can prove it with crypto that doesn’t burn the planet. We rely on our human, community governance as an anchor of trust.

If folks want to trade music or art in an ugly commodity futures market, I guess they are free to so, but in my opinion, in the long run, the wealth in those markets flows to the wealthy or to those operating the scheme from the beginning.

I’m excited by what we could do one day in mutual exchanges with other co-ops, where we join a bigger network of trust in common values, secured by credentials.

6 Likes

I add my perspective.

Blockchains are carbon neutral. Power sources where computers draw from may be more or less carbon neutral. Impact on the environment is better addressed through energy policy than creative expression policy at the business level.

I’m all for environmental responsibility. But forfeiting some technology that meets one or more needs of the community due to a terrible upstream energy policy is also less than desirable.

It’s still too early to tell what may come of blockchain. But I’m convinced it isn’t going away, even if it crushes the environment. Some form of it may very well end up being something the community will want to fight for, especially against the suits & ties that are already up to their old pump and dump tricks.

Dan.

3 Likes

Late to reply to this thread. Thank you @dogmaskmusic for starting this conversation! Highly appreciated.

Want to respond first as a climate activist. My wife and I are so committed to this topic that we’re actively talking about going completely (we hope!) off the grid by 2025. We’re also currently engaged with a design university on a program called “Designing Exit Strategies” which is looking at degrowth from a design perspective. So, the point is, we take this s*** seriously.

That said, hearing this “crypto is a carbon nightmare” meme is frustrating beyond belief.

Speaking now as the founder of Resonate, there is a direct line between my discovery of Ethereum in 2014 and the existence of this music platform. (Meaning we all wouldn’t be having this discussion if I hadn’t drunk the blockchain kool-aid, as it initiated a specific series of events leading to founding Resonate.)

Back in 2017 I heard about a site called Digiconomist that was stating rather convincingly that PoW (proof of work) was consuming as much electricity as country ___. You could even check back every few weeks to see which country Bitcoin was overtaking at the time. Problem is, the science sucks:

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/21/no-bitcoin-is-likely-not-going-to-consume-all-the-worlds-energy-in-2020.html

The computer process that generates each coin is said to be on pace to require more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. This bitcoin “mining” allegedly consumes more power than most countries use each year, and its electricity usage is roughly equivalent to Bulgaria’s consumption.

But here’s another thing you might want to know: All of that analysis is based on a single estimate of bitcoin’s power consumption that is highly questionable, according to some long-time energy and IT researchers. Despite their skepticism, this power-consumption estimate from the website Digiconomist has quickly been accepted as gospel by many journalists, research analysts and even billionaire investors.

Four years on and the meme persists. sigh

So now we have this situation where artists are turning away from a potentially game-changing source of income because of bad data and the viral power of convincing-sounding memes. I’ve been more than frustrated about this recently, sometimes engaging in twitter disputes on the topic (not fun) which often feels like trying to push back the ocean.

Then something occurred to me… what if this “controversy” is actually an opportunity?

Speaking again as the founder of Resonate, I have to say that I’m MUCH more worried about the potential for exploitation from Silicon-Valley-powered-startups selling NFT tools to artists, where the same dynamics we’re trying to avoid as a music service are guaranteed to pan out… startups getting acquired by bigger fish (i.e. Spotify buys out Zora), projects go bust (leaving artists with no more control or access) or even garden-variety scammers serving up NFTs with half-baked tech.

What is the opportunity in all this? Recreating the same logic and methodology as NFTs (sans blockchain) but under the management and collaborative potential that can only come from a democratically-empowered platform like ours!

We’d be able to instantly counter the carbon arguments completely while bringing to light venture-backed platform dynamics. Accomplished with a combination of the Credentials tech Nick mentioned above, while building in the essential logic that NFTs provide… shared royalties, provable ownership, limited editions, etc.

If anyone is interested, drop a reply. Thinking of forming a working group on this… :wink:

3 Likes

I’d go even further : Recreating ANOTHER logic and methodology than NFT (sans blockchain) but under the management and collaborative potential that can only come from a democratically-empowered platform like ours!

Because as you say, NFT provide stuff like “provable ownership” (which I only marginally care for as a leftist), limited editions … except artificially limited since they’re not really limited they’re just fake scarcity, which, again, as a leftist should raise an eyebrow, or both, because it’s a disgusting concept.

Because yes, I’ve talked at length about NFTs on other forums so I’m a bit tired if I have to do it all over again, but all the artists I’ve seen criticizing NFTs are not just criticizing the fact it’s using a PoW blockchain to sell them (it’s also an issue, even if PoW isn’t consuming an entire country’s worth of electricity, it remains an issue for several reasons, but it’s not the only issue) they’re criticizing the very concept of NFTs, which is to bring digital assets into the logic of the Art Fair world. And the Art Fair world sucks, is as right wing capitalist garbage as it gets, and we should strive to destroy it, not replicate it in the digital realm.

Why on earth would I dream of a society that creates fake scarcity out of endlessly replicable digital files? The only answer to that is “to make those digital files financial assets”. At least with physical goods, one can claim an emotional bond to the thing one buys. It gets slightly damaged, it ages in a way that’s unique, you store it somewhere in your living room, what’s unique is your sensory experience of it. If someone has a “unique NFT”, and loses it (like, it got stolen), he lost nothing of the sensory experience, because he can still enjoy the art in exactly the same way, it’s still there, it’s still the same exact piece, just the name under it doesn’t artificially claims he “owns” this thing because he was the highest bidder in an online auction, and that’s the only thing he paid for.

This to me, and NFT in general, (and the Art Fair world as well) is the most extreme dystopia I could envision for the arts. I don’t want any of it, and the only reason it’s getting the kind of attention it has recently, is litterally just because workers of the art world are being squeezed to death since decades, and any mention of rich people handing a few of them a shread of the money they make from exploiting the whole of them (and every other human being on earth) seems like a revolution and therefore shouldn’t be conceptually questionned in any way. Except a lot of artists still question it, they didn’t become artists to beg billionnaires, millionaires and tech bros to give them a few thousand dollars so they can attach their name to it and brag about how they own the work we put years of our life and labor and love into creating, and then possibly speculate on it if they so wish.

Sure because NFT is conceptually basically a scam (they buy something but own nothing in fact, just a receipt that says they “own” a thing that anyone can actually own with a copy paste), it might not seem like such a big deal, but it still catters to an ideology and a kind of behavior that ultimately will only be harmful and detrimental to the art world, and the proof we have for it is that it’s exactly the way the art world has functionned for a few centuries already.

As a broad answer, @peter : Resonate might have a direct lineage from “driking the crypto kool aid”, and there might be good things to achieve with “another form of blockchain”, but the fact remains Resonate is a conceptually and intellectually much greater and revolutionnary concept than NFT for the arts, because it thinks about humans, and fairness, and collectivity first, rather than about “the art object” as a thing in and of itself that should be valued for its scarcity, its uniqueness, rather than as merely the possibility of a link between all people, who desperately need as many ways they can to communicate and empathize with each other.

Just because NFT makes money and excites journalists and cool digital art people who used to make cool looking shader art for big brands and are now making cool looking shader arts directly for the shareholders and CEOs of these big brands instead, doesn’t mean it’s a better suited concept for the future and that we should want it for ourselves.

Resonate’s path will undoubtedly be tougher than that, but maybe (a little like Bandcamp managed while still baring the cross of being a private owned company with all the limitations and problematics that this entails) it can grow more slowly, steadily, and fairly. There will likely never be a moment where, in the blink of an eye, a few thousands people will amass dozens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a month from wealthy patrons, but that’s something to be proud of, if we’re to build a system that lives outside of the predatory behaviors of capitalism.

Hope this didn’t come as agressive toward you, and in fact I’d be more than enclined to build a non blockchain alternative to NFT, but if you think people critical of it are not thinking about that already I think you couldn’t be more wrong. We are actively thinking about alternatives, just alternatives to the entire ideology and prerogative of NFT, not just to its technological implementation.

11 Likes

Terrific contribution @LLK!

4 Likes

Wow, fantastic reply @LLK. Literal goosebumps. Sooo many comments I’d love to highlight and comment on, but time being always limited I’ll simply summarize by saying THANK YOU. Your perspective on what this whole thing about… your engagement and commitment makes all the years of sacrifice totally worth it.

And everything you said is exactly why you need to be involved! Absolutely lets deconstruct all of it… the silicon-valley-startup systems, the BS of the predatory art world, glorification of wealth/access, capitalist dynamics, etc.

Just one specific thing I’d reply to:

At least with physical goods, one can claim an emotional bond to the thing one buys.

I’d argue that NFTs create the first chance to attach emotional meaning to a digital object. While I still treasure physical representations of music I purchased over the years, I’ve often longed for a similar feeling in the digital world. In fact, I think the transience of digital was just as much a wrecking ball on the industry as piracy. The “weight” of meaning felt like it disappeared almost overnight. So for me the purpose of an NFT-like “product” is simply to foster new pathways for expressing the love and dedication a fan feels towards an artist. If we can do that ethically, practically and ecologically, that sounds like a win, ya?

Will send invites to a new discussion forum soon as we sort out some internal logistics. :slight_smile:

4 Likes

Timestamps have likely been evocative emotionally since antiquity.

5 Likes

My point being we don’t need NFTs for that, they’re just a parasitic form of ownership added on top that makes the false pretence of being “the form of attachement” itself. What I meant by “emotional bond” was something factual not just psychological, the emotional bond isn’t born out of a virtual “reciept”, it’s made by the fact you physically have to deal with the artpiece. Which means the artpiece can get damaged, bent, improved on (in your opinion), tempered, destroyed : you can do things with it. I think we could totally try to find ways to add more of that flavor to digital art, but NFT is not in any case the way, it even removes the digital art itself even further away from the buyer since it locks him/her out of its code, of its original asset file, of its very nature, to only connect him/her through… ugh the worse thing in the world actually : the moment he payed for it.

You can’t do anything with an NFT except contemplate your receipt, you can do things with the jpg/gif/mpg it’s claiming you own, but then once you’ve tempered/modified/transformed it and actually even before that (if like, you simply want to simply “download it” !) well you’re in this weird situation where you won’t own what you’ve downloaded, because crypto has this nag for turning things upside down and calling them “complex” when they’re just meaningless. To really “have” what you own, you need to pirate it.

Personally, long before that I already had a strong emotional bond with the digital art I buy, I buy a lot of small itch.io games, I buy physical and digital records on bandcamp, I buy small runs of prints from all the visual artists I enjoy, some on their own setup shops to bypass “middlemen costs” (fun fact, I bypass middlemen there much more than on any NFT platform right now), and I support those who only do things online with Patreon subs so that I can still support them. The thing is, there is an emotional bond there and it’s rich and experience and fluctuating and based on human interraction, it’s rich by essence, not because of a stamp that says so. I find extremely scary of a political proposition that somehow the money I’ve spent on those things should be considered “less of a comitment” just because there isn’t a “tempered proof” ledger saying I bought them somewhere. The fact is there is a ledger saying I bought these, sure it’s not cryptolocked, it’s not stored in magic amber so that someone in 2239 can see how I bought this album in 2018, I’ve only got normal receipts of all my purchases, the system through which I paid has normal informations relative to the transactions etc. These are not the problems that needs to be solved.

NFT solves the problem of making transactions scarce (which is more generally a cryptomoney advocates obsession anyway), which is the opposite of what I want.

The only net positive of NFT is it raises the question of “what do we value?”. And this is, indeed, a fundamental questions. (actually about that, I think you should read the looong discussions I had with @Sam_Martyn in the The Riddle of Streaming for Jazz and Classical topic, since it’s also a question that we can’t avoid about Resonate)

I agree that anything that foster pathways for expressing love and dedication to artists is great. Let’s imagine for a second what would be the specific of an “ethical” NFT alternative :

  • No scarcity (anyone can buy a digital thing because that’s the greatest thing about all things digital).
  • No speculation (because speculation itself is inherently bad, and the art world should wnat none of that) but not only no speculation > a structure that specifically and structurally inforce the impossibility for speculative behavior to, instead, foster at its root redistribution. Otherwise it’s just trickle down economics applied to the artists (“if a few make a lot, eventually for some reason surely, all will benefit!” said the capitalist with no proof of that ever happening anywhere).
  • Contracts that take into account the laws of the real world that define precisely what you own (is it the jpg? is it a right of access to a download link where you can donwload the jpg forever? is it the right to alter a jpg to make your own jpg with it? etc.). Possibly, you could even have an interface that lets the artists specify what exactly they sell. This contrat costs the same price to anyone who buys the art.
  • “pay what you want” system, except anything above the asking price is strictly considered a donation and doesn’t grant any special rights to the patron.

Etc. that’s just a few on the top of my head. You quickly start to notice that it doesn’t look anything at all like NFT, which is because NFT is a bad idea to start with.

The only good idea is “digital art is work and craftsmanship and should be paid for”. It sounds so boring to capitalist press to say things with those weird words, they like much better “magic wands make moneyz !”, but it’s the only truth we know : it’s an awful lot of work and craftsmanship, and we should be made aware of it and pay for it in a fair way.

Also notice how this ideal NFT website looks an awful lot like Bandcamp “but for visuals and digital art”, that’s because in essence, NFT websites are just exactly that, Bandcamp “but for visuals” except you only sell your thing once to the highest bidder because some people decided if anything exists in more than 5 exemplary, it’s not worth spending a lot of money on it, and also (that’s always my favorite aspect) contrary to bandcamp, you do not even own the actual art you bought, you just own a super-mega-hyper secure reciept saying you own a hyperlink directing to some place where it’s showcased. At least with Bandcamp the transaction is simple, you buy permanent access to a link that lets you download the art you bought easily, in any desired format, and illimited acess to streaming anywhere you want from the app.

And then (like all the tech-savy bros of the cryptoworld with their super expensive profile page) on Bandcamp, anyone can show off his love for musicians, and display his collection, it’s even kinda funny that the “collection” interface of Bandcamp looks extremely similar to the ones you find on withfundation, Super Rare, Nifty etc. Actually it also works the same on itch.io, but it makes sense it’s kind of the bandcamp for indie games.

There, you have it, all done with fungible tokens.

The thing is though, there are things we could improve about Bandcamp, and that’s in part why Resonate has room to grow, and also there would need to be specifics to figure out for Digital Art for sure, would it only be to make the experience of buying it a little more exciting to the buyers than having a dedicated “scarce” instagram feed, and be able to brag “I’m rich enough that I spent a lot on this and you can check exactly how much because that’s not at all disgusting to look at if you’re struggling for food this month !”

Anyhow, thank you both for your kind words and taking the time to read everything I had to say.

This all matters a lot to me, not even that we succeed, that would be beautiful for sure, but more importantly, that we don’t fail to really pinpoint and establish what we want to be succesful at. Because if we manage that the best we can, I’m sure not only we’ll get a following, but we’ll get a lineage of ideas of our own, and that’s even better.

11 Likes

This thread is awesome. Thanks to all!

This part summarizes where I think we should stand. We don’t want to create another way to produce scarce goods. We want to create a way for others to bond, connect and interact in a rich and human way.

6 Likes

@LLK @NachoB this reminds me of the great John Berger…

"For critics and the managers of art salerooms, value is monetary. A painting becomes more significant as its price rises—artistic and market value are one and the same. For Berger, as a Marxist, art’s value is very different: “Art, when it functions like this [making sense of what life’s brutalities cannot], becomes a meeting place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honour”.

I want to be in that meeting place.

We can look after each other in the long run. With solidarity and mutual exchange, but without speculation.

7 Likes

First of all, fantastic replies everyone! Wow.

I’m so glad to see all of this discussion and it’s all super interesting to read. I hope my initial post didn’t come across as too antagonistic, and I’m glad to see the insights and conversation everyone has replied with. Reading through this thread gives me hope for the future of music and music communities.

Second, I want to share a very well-researched and entertaining video that Benn Jordan (aka The Flashbulb) recently uploaded about NFTs, and how there are actually some good ways to use NFT technology that are millions of times less wasteful for the planet and that don’t give money to unnecessary intermediaries looking for a quick buck from artists: https://youtu.be/M1C5SYkFC-I

2 Likes