WWF UK plans to sell non-fungible tokens (NFTs) for nature have drawn scorn from those who say the climate impact are at odds with the work of the conservation charity.
The campaigning organisation is due to launch non-fungible tokens for nature tomorrow, in the form of unique digital artworks, field trips and collectibles.
WWF UK hopes the NFTs will raise funds for its conservation work and awareness of 13 of the most endangered species, including types of gorillas, orangutan, and rhino.
But most NFT transactions rely on a cryptocurrency called Eth, supported by the blockchain Ethereum, which relies on an an energy-intensive, vast computer network to sustain it.
One Ethereum transaction has the same carbon emissions as 140,000 Visa transactions, according to Statista.
What is an NFT?
NFTs appear to be taking parts of the internet by storm and have attracted interest from celebrities and athletes.
They are the most recent craze from the cryptocurrency world and are gaining increasing mainstream attention, with some NFTs going for millions of pounds at auction.
An NFT is a unique digital certificate that proves ownership of collectibles, from a video or image to a tweet or programme. Basically, if something is fungible, it is interchangeable with another good or asset – non-fungible means it is not.
In the real world, good examples of non-fungible assets include football trading cards and plane tickets. Digitally, NFTs can be something as straightforward as a JPEG image.
While there’s plenty of interest, the concept has been ridiculed by many, and some companies which have indicated plans to wade into the burgeoning industry have U-turned after backlash.
Read more on NFTs in our explainer here.
What are critics saying about WWF UK’s plans?
The idea has sparked backlash, with critics on social media describing it as “grim,” “insane” and “unbelievable”, and some threatening to withhold donations.
Dr Catherine Flick, senior researcher in computing and social responsibility at De Montfort University, urged the organisation to reconsider and assess the “bigger picture”.
“Each Eth transaction is remarkably energy intensive,” she told Sky News. “So the minting and further transaction of the WWF NFTs will be remarkably destructive in both the short and long term.
“It’s not too late to pull out and stop the ‘drop’ of these NFTs and their destructive environmental impact.”
How has WWF UK responded to the backlash?
The charity says it is using an “eco-friendly” version of Eth by accessing it via – or “minting” it to – a side chain.
A side chain (in this case Polygon) is a side blockchain that is linked to another blockchain, which can work more efficiently and therefore cause less pollution.
WWF UK says one transaction on Polygon has the equivalent carbon emissions of a single glass of tap water.
Sarah Ward from the charity said: “We are always looking at innovative ways to engage WWF supporters and fundraisers and trial new ideas.”
The NFT proceeds would fund “vital conservation work across the globe”, she added.
But Dr Flick says that just because a Polygon transaction uses less Ethereum, it doesn’t make it eco-friendly.
“It also requires Eth to buy the NFTs, and future transactions of the NFTs will be reliant on Eth as well,” she said. “I don’t know of any fully environmentally or climate friendly mainstream NFT implementations that are trustworthy.”
She added: “Most of them rely on environmentally problematic cryptocurrencies for transactions or are side-chains to problematic blockchains.”
Polygon and Ethereum did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
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