Finally, a Neutral Argument on NFTs

A deeper look at the arguments and counter arguments suffocating the NFT space

As the hype of NFT crypto art has inevitably blown to out-of-this-world proportions, valid arguments have arisen from both sides. It is an unavoidable fact that every cryptocurrency transaction entails a considerable amount of electricity usage, and as a result, a large carbon footprint. On the flip side, thousands of artists and collectors have built an income stream during a time during which unemployment is scraping all-time-highs.

Unfortunately, the polarizing nature of the internet has encouraged the spread of ‘moral high ground’ arguments. People form their initial judgment based on one or two articles their friends posted on social media then somehow gain a feeling of entitlement to talk down on others who are completely unaware of the ‘facts’ professed by some amateur journalist. While these articles bring forward valid points, they ignore all counterarguments. What good is an argument that doesn’t address the valid opinions of the other side? In fact, I wouldn’t consider it an argument at all. Rather, it is a ploy to gain Instagram followers while refusing to argue in good faith.

These people understand that social media algorithms function off controversy, and there is no better method of creating a controversial post than to completely ‘cancel’ a large group’s income source while claiming moral superiority.

In response to being called out by the environmentalist faction, crypto currency supporters presented their own one-sided arguments. These arguments were based on the fact that plenty of others things pollute, too. While this is true, the climate crisis is at a stage where it literally cannot take any more pollution. We are reaching Earth’s breaking point, and we have a responsibility — especially as artists — to do everything we can to protect our living home.

Thus, there are valid points on both sides, and invalid points as well. We must contrast these opposing viewpoints and attempt to reveal the answer of the question scourging cryptocurrency: is it morally acceptable to continue minting NFTs?

Argument: Cryptocurrency is bad for the environment. Each transaction of Ethereum has a carbon footprint of almost 30Kg, which is equivalent to the amount of electricity the average US household uses in almost two days. Artists who claim to support the environment are being hypocritical by making NFTs.

Counter-argument: Yes, cryptocurrency is bad for the environment. As an environmentally-conscious artist who still has to make money, I can engage with cryptocurrency as an income stream as long as I do so responsibly, offset my environmental impact, and work on improving the technology to be more efficient and Earth-friendly. My question for people making this argument is as follows: “Have you ever been to a concert of a band on tour?” The concert Merch alone has a greater negative impact than NFTs. The arts have always had a massive negative impact on the environment. Although this is no excuse for worsening the impact, many NFT artists have an incredibly low footprint in other aspects and shouldn’t be singled out.

Argument: There are no real art collectors in crypto, unlike traditional art. Everyone is just in it to get rich quick. NFTs are a pyramid scheme.

Counter-argument: This is a painful romanticization of the art world, which is notoriously a game for rich snobs to speculate on one of the highest-growth assets in the market. If anything, NFTs promote the creation and collection of art by regular people, who have been historically excluded from profits in art investment. Also, there are plenty of collectors and digital museums investing in NFT art for the exclusive reason that they enjoy the art and want to display it.

Argument: You don’t actually own anything. It’s just a digital copy, and you can get those for free on the internet anyway.

Counter-argument: The broadcast of a sporting event is a “digital copy”, yet it can often be worth millions of dollars. And no, you can’t just get it on the internet for free. If you do so, you are breaking copyright law. With NFTs, artists can sell one-of-a-kind digital art works, and only the owner of the NFT would have permission to display the piece. You can go to the museum and take a photo of a painting, but you don’t own the actual painting (obviously). You can download an image on the internet, but unless you own the signed NFT contract from its creator, you don’t own the actual image.

Argument: There are plenty of other ways to make money as an artist.

Counter-argument: There are a ‘million ways to make a million.’ For digital artists, however, the options are quite limited. Besides contract gigs and personal film projects, which require an incredible upfront expense, there isn’t really a way to sell ‘pieces’ of animated artwork. NFTs provide an income stream for people who don’t currently have one. Statements such as this usually come from people who take the CGI in 3-hour Marvel movies for granted. Traditional painters used to make up the majority of artists, and now they are a small subset within the modern context of art. Finally, traditional methods of art-making also have a large environmental impact. The chemicals used to prime canvasses and make paint are terrible for the environment, for example, and printed materials kill trees.

Conclusion

We are living in a time of quick judgment, and with social media, people are constantly attempting to prove their worth or be noticed ‘saving the world.’ Many profess that they are open to debating the egregious statements of their argument, yet respond only to those who agree with them. This hypocrisy must end, because one will never be able to win over the other side’s opinion if they are coming to the table with harassment and name-calling.

We must nurture an open debate and work together to create a sustainable solution that doesn’t discredit the income of thousands, while also doesn’t discredit the carbon footprint of these activities.

I call on all crypto artists to offset your carbon footprint by purchasing offsets, and perhaps to consider waiting to mint new artworks until the implementation of Ethereum 2.0, a blockchain that will be nearly 100x more efficient than the current mainnet.

I call on all “crypto-haters” to remember that we are all struggling to get by in this pandemic, and before you tear apart our industry perhaps consider the valid counter-arguments we will respond with.

Consultant at Hitachi Vantara — Boston College, University of Otago. Views expressed are my own, not my employer’s.