The Bitcoiners for Future want to raise awareness that Bitcoin can be a solution to pressing social and ecological problems. In an interview, its founder explains what role disinflationary money can have for a sustainable economy and why climate activists and Bitcoiners find it so difficult to come together – even though they often have the same goals.
Stephan, 41 years old and a full-time doctor, founded the group Bitcoiners for Future. This now consists of twenty-one active members and is committed to protecting the climate through better money. The group is experiencing resistance from both climate activists and Bitcoiners.
Hello Stephan! You founded Bitcoiners for Future. What is your mission?
We are a community that recognizes socio-ecological potential in Bitcoin and wants to raise awareness of it, for example in view of the current environmental challenges.
“A disinflationary money like Bitcoin can provide incentives to conserve resources”
What is the socio-environmental potential of Bitcoin?
There are several clues to this. First, we assume that what is best for nature is not what you do, but what you don’t do. We urgently need incentives to reduce consumption. A disinflationary money like Bitcoin can provide incentives to conserve resources, save money, produce long-lasting products and recycle. You can also observe this in the scene. Most Bitcoiners wear old clothes and drive old cars. The “When Lambo” mindset is hard to find here.
That corresponds to textbook economics: deflation leads to consumer restraint. But most economists tend to associate this with collective impoverishment and a regression to a medieval, fundamentalist economy.
We don’t want to go back to the Stone Age, but forward to a new scale that is separate from purely material growth. Gross domestic product (GDP) emphasizes quantity over quality. It does not make wealth the benchmark, but rather the consumption of resources. For example, if you buy an electric car instead of two combustion engines and charge it with electricity from your own photovoltaic system, you will gain wealth, but the GDP will fall. Or look at the healthcare system. Walking, exercise and good nutrition make you healthy, but create less GDP growth than diseases that require medication.
And Bitcoin can help move away from this GDP obsession?
Bitcoin should encourage people to act more sustainably and thoughtfully – for themselves and the environment. In the long term, the entirely material concept of GDP must be replaced by concepts that are more accurate to prosperity, such as happiness, satisfaction and health. Bitcoin could contribute to this transformation with its properties.
However, it currently does not look as if Bitcoin will replace fiat money in the immediate future…
Frankly, it’s hard to predict what would happen if you immediately abolished fiat money. This could become disruptive in an unpleasant way, like when thinking about debt. That’s why coexistence is okay for now. With Bitcoin we already have a vehicle that makes it possible to no longer misuse other, vital structures such as real estate to store value, or to use up leftover money at the end of the month. The mere existence of a limited quantity of money is already a socio-ecological factor – competition between currencies is certainly desirable.
“Overall, turning an environmental activist into a Bitcoiner is harder than making a Bitcoiner aware of climate change”
But the economic turnaround is not the only reason why you propose Bitcoin as a solution to the climate crisis…
Yes. We see Bitcoin as a possible accelerator for the expansion of renewable energies. If you see wind turbines standing still, they are rarely broken and are instead producing more electricity than the grid can handle. Germany spends 800 million euros a year to pay suppliers not to feed in electricity. Bitcoin mining is a customer that can be switched on quickly and can not only help to stabilize the network frequency, but can also provide an incentive for the urgently needed expansion of corresponding systems.
It’s been said for a long time, but relatively little happens…
In Germany, the incentive to use Bitcoin mining to expand renewable energy is rather low. The EEG pays eight cents per kilowatt hour, which is more profitable than mining Bitcoins. But it is already happening in other countries, for example in Kenya with micro hydroelectric power plants, where the infrastructure is still lacking. And in Congo, a national park is financed by Bitcoin mining. There are certainly such success stories, and if Bitcoin helps to electrify Africa, that is also part of historical justice for this continent.
“Out of 800 participants, three came to the subsequent lecture, and then one was interested in Bitcoin. That’s about the quota.”
Nevertheless, the results are rather disappointing. CO2 emissions from mining will continue to rise in 2023. Is the scene lying to its own pocket when it presents mining as ecological?
In my opinion, this is mainly due to government demands in Western countries and the wrong policies, such as the continued far too high subsidies for fossil fuels. But I admit that the point is a bit oversized, and the economic-ecological theory of disinflationary money is probably more important in the long term.
Do the other ecological movements understand this? One would think that they would also want a more sustainable economic order.
Many people initially react a bit disturbed when you use the word Bitcoin. You know Bitcoin as climate-damaging money for criminals. The first reaction, for example with Fridays for Futures or the Last Generation, is at least 90 percent rejection. Once one of us, Oskar, spoke in front of Fridays for Futures. Of the 800 participants, three came to the subsequent lecture, and then one became interested in Bitcoin. That’s about the quota. One in a thousand, and that after long conversations. The fears of contact are strong, but seem to be easing somewhat with the increasingly perceived failure of politics on this issue. Dissatisfaction with our inflationary economic system is often the first common denominator.
Can you change consciousness?
Economic-ecological connections are still poorly represented in the climate movement. Although many are skeptical about the idea of constant growth, they also have no other solution than to call for the state to ban or tax things. The potential for decentralized solutions that create individual incentives is still rare, which is a shame since the climate movement also denounces state failure and sees itself as a grassroots movement from below. But overall, turning an environmental activist into a Bitcoiner is harder than making a Bitcoiner aware of climate change.
“But you have to admit that many Bitcoiners do not recognize man-made climate change.”
That’s the other side: you don’t have an easy time with Bitcoiner either.
Yes, some people think that now the communists are coming. Bitcoiners are often more liberal-conservative and initially think that we are advocating for more coercion by the state because they know this from other environmental organizations. But many people understand relatively quickly that although we have the same goals as Fridays for Futures, we have different approaches to solutions. We do not want the state to primarily act as a teacher of behavior through laws and taxes, but rather for people to make contributions to climate protection based on their own incentives.
Are there many so-called “climate deniers” in the scene? You recently posted a somewhat disturbing poll on Twitter.
Well… we asked how to make the Bitcoin network carbon negative. Among the answer options, 54 percent said, “leave it as it is” and 28 percent said “there is no CO2 problem.” And we probably have more “green” Bitcoiners than followers. In a survey by another Bitcoiner, 70 percent even said there was no CO2 problem. It should be said that “leave it as it is” also means that due to declining mining rewards, Bitcoin will probably only be powered by excess – and therefore probably green – energy over time. So this is not just ignorance on the part of these Bitcoiners, but rather a trust in the code. But you have to admit that many Bitcoiners do not recognize man-made climate change.
Do you have any idea why?
What I see here is an incredible distrust of science and state-affiliated scientific institutions. This probably corresponds to a suspicious attitude in the scene and was in many cases exacerbated by the corona pandemic. However, climate data has been collected for decades and provides a clear picture on many levels. Both physics and our experience of recent years are in harmony. The mixture of many topics is also noticeable; for example, the recognition of climate change is often equated with increased state control in this regard. However, many Bitcoiners overlook the fact that the participants in climate demonstrations do not trust the state and say that governments have done nothing or too little about climate change for decades. Unfortunately, many environmental activists have no other answer than to call for the state again and again. This reminds me of Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
And you think a decentralized approach could cut through this knot?
Exactly. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of awareness of Bitcoin among climate protesters, and a little more awareness of the climate crisis among Bitcoiners. Both essentially fit together so well. And that is what we are committed to.