After The Merge, can Ethereum erase its historic emissions, too?

There’s a new effort to tackle Ethereum’s legacy of pollution, even after the cryptocurrency drastically reduced its greenhouse gas emissions this year. Ethereum software company ConsenSys launched a new initiative alongside more than a dozen tech and Web3 companies yesterday during the United Nations climate summit taking place in Egypt. The aim of the initiative, called the Ethereum Climate Platform, is to “redress and counteract” the climate pollution Ethereum left behind from its inception in 2015 until this year.

In September, Ethereum completed The Merge — a highly anticipated software update that slashed the blockchain network’s electricity use by 99.988 percent. But prior to that update, Ethereum used an enormously energy-hungry system to verify transactions on its blockchain. Crypto “miners” raced to solve complex puzzles for a chance to add blocks of verified transactions to the chain, winning new tokens in return. The Merge essentially axed the puzzles, which is why the network is now able to use a fraction of the energy that it previously did.

Before the Merge, Ethereum was estimated to h ave used about as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh

Even so, the Ethereum network still created plenty of pollution over the past seven years. Before The Merge, Ethereum was estimated to have used about as much electricity annually as the country of Bangladesh. Now ConsenSys, which was involved with The Merge and whose CEO was an Ethereum co-founder, wants to get rid of those historical emissions.

The first step for the Ethereum Climate Platform will be to figure out how much carbon dioxide pollution the cryptocurrency actually created. “The technology leaves behind an estimated carbon debt in the tens of millions of metric tons,” according to a ConsenSys press release. The Platform plans to underwrite a study to come to a more precise estimate.

Beyond that, the Climate Platform’s work is still fuzzy. They plan to fund and support a broad range of projects, including those that might be able to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. ConsenSys mentions projects like emerging carbon removal technologies and nature-based strategies that harness the ability of forests and the ocean to trap CO2.

There’s skepticism that such schemes amount to greenwashing when they’re used by companies whose pollution is still growing. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Ethereum. Since the network isn’t relying on carbon removal to shrink its current carbon footprint, these efforts might actually help to make a dent in the garbage pile of pollution that they have already pumped into the atmosphere.

The caveat, of course, is whether ConsenSys and its partners can actually follow through on the commitment it made yesterday. It says it plans to work with nonprofit groups and intergovernmental organizations to plot its next moves. It’s also still calling on others to join the initiative. It counts Microsoft, Polygon, and the Global Blockchain Business Council among its founding members.

But many of its members are Web3 companies that plan to “leverag[e] Web3 native technologies” in pursuit of the Climate Platform’s goal of tackling Ethereum’s past emissions. Web3 projects lost more than $2 billion as a result of hacks in just the first six months of 2022, a report found earlier this year, highlighting the risks the technology still faces. And with crypto winter only deepening after the bomb cyclone that was FTX, the industry has plenty of messes to clean up at the moment.