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 been also 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.
Very special thanks to @platon for permission to transform his iconic portrait for this project. And no worries – this NFT will be carbon-offset.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 15, 2021
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.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 25, 2021
I don’t know much about the nft’s, I did it to raise money for my friends foundation…… why is it bad? If some can send me an article or research to explain that’s cool https://t.co/GShrY0r4PM
— Flea (@flea333) November 15, 2021
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.
Hey guys, gonna be on clubhouse talking about NFT’s at 7 pm pst – here’s the link to join our secret society 🧩🐉🔥https://t.co/csYSFjvfDJ
— 𝔊𝔯𝔦𝔪𝔢𝔰 (⌛️,⏳) ᚷᚱᛁᛗᛖᛋ (@Grimezsz) February 26, 2021
Halsey: See also: Grimes.
“People Disappear Here” An Original NFT Collection available March 17th on @niftygateway. A portion of sales will be donated to @MFPLA, as well as @carbon_180, a NGO dedicated to the mission of creating a world that removes more carbon that it emits. pic.twitter.com/0lPlNc7513
— h (@halsey) March 13, 2021
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.
Not focused on lightning for NFT. Lightning to enable a currency for the internet.
— jack⚡️ (@jack) August 13, 2021
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:
For those asking, here is my NFT collection.. And some are for sale 🙂 https://t.co/RSQxzlsX9Z
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) October 12, 2021
— Bloqport (@Bloqport) October 29, 2021
NFT like dat https://t.co/iJy9V2KLjS
— Certified ?uestlover (@questlove) December 2, 2021
Reese Witherspoon: Here’s a good tweet:
— Baseball Boy #1 (@LizRummy) December 7, 2021
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).
I am honored to join @autograph’s Advisory Board and help usher in a new era of collecting with this legendary lineup. My official NFT collections are coming soon but hit up https://t.co/09PvDNvncF to tokenize your username for free in the meantime. pic.twitter.com/HENDNC6MaJ
— Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk) July 21, 2021
My friends, today @TheRealStanLee would have been 99 years young. 🎂🎉🎊 I want to celebrate his life and remember him by getting the hashtag #STANLEE99 Trending. Will you help me? BTW isn't the NFT below adorable? 😉👍🏻 #BTS #BTSARMY pic.twitter.com/7OfBUjxm77
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) December 28, 2021