The unveiling of the “Skull of Satoshi” installation by Canadian artist Benjamin Von Wong caused quite a stir in the Crypto Twitter community last week. In response to the backlash, Von Wong clarified that the installation was never intended to be anti-Bitcoin. Rather, it was a hopeful attempt to encourage Bitcoin to shift away from needless fossil fuel consumption while retaining its safety, security, and decentralization features.
Von Wong admitted that, at first, he believed that the proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithm used by Bitcoin mining was a “simple black-and-white issue” and intuitively wasteful. However, after speaking with members of the Bitcoin community, he acknowledged that the matter was more nuanced than he initially thought.
I made the Skull believing that Bitcoin Mining was a simple black-and-white issue. I’ve spent my entire career trying to reduce real-world physical waste, and PoW felt intuitively wasteful.
Of course, I was wrong.
Few things in the world are black and white. Dumb me. /4
— Von Wong (@thevonwong) March 25, 2023
The “Skull of Satoshi” installation was part of a year-long campaign spearheaded by Greenpeace, an international environmental NGO, aimed at highlighting the significant climate impact of Bitcoin mining. The initiative, called “Change the Code, Not the Climate,” seeks to transition Bitcoin to a more environmentally-friendly proof-of-stake (PoS) mechanism. However, Greenpeace clarified that they are not necessarily advocating for Bitcoin to switch to any existing form of PoS, but are pointing out that other cryptocurrencies have already moved to different consensus mechanisms to reduce their carbon emissions.
While Greenpeace remains optimistic about technological innovation and human creativity, people who work closely with Bitcoin are far less so. They note that any attempt to transition Bitcoin to PoS would require a hard fork, which would create a situation where all nodes that don’t want to update to a new software version would fall off the consensus. While Bitcoin’s open-source code allows anyone to make changes, all major upgrades to the Bitcoin network over the past decade, including SegWit and Taproot, have been executed as soft forks. There are “no chances” for a successful hard fork any time soon, according to Viacheslav Zhygulin, co-founder and CTO of stroom.network.
Phil Harvey, the CEO of Bitcoin mining consulting firm Sabre56, also weighed in, noting that the Bitcoin code has been designed “to be practically impossible to change” as it requires agreement from all network participants. Introducing PoS to the Bitcoin network would change its entire identity and value proposition, he said, as the value of digital assets stems from their ability to solve financial and other problems.
In summary, while the “Skull of Satoshi” installation brought attention to the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining, transitioning Bitcoin to PoS is not as straightforward as it may seem. The Bitcoin community is wary of any changes that would alter its identity and value proposition, and a hard fork is currently not a viable option. However, Greenpeace and other environmental organizations remain committed to finding ways to reduce the carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining.