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Bitcoin’s ‘Judas’: The co-founder of a rival cryptocurrency is pushing for a green revolution in mining. It’s not going well.

·5 min read
Courtesy of Ripple

Chris Larsen has had a tough week.

The Bitcoin community blasted the billionaire crypto founder online after he announced a $5 million campaign on Monday pushing for Bitcoin to change its mining system, use less energy, and go greener.

The head of a major crypto research platform called him “Judas,” and it only went downhill from there. Thousands of social media accounts shared their disdain for the campaign, while also poking at Larsen himself.

https://twitter.com/twobitidiot/status/1508760692761022468

“I obviously knew that was going to happen,” Larsen, co-founder of Ripple, the project that created a rival cryptocurrency to Bitcoin called XRP, told Fortune.

“The ‘Judas’ thing was unfair because Roger [Ver] and I are good friends, and I would never do anything to hurt Roger,” Larsen joked. Ver is the executive chairman of Bitcoin.com, a website affiliated with the cryptocurrency, who is sometimes referred to as “Bitcoin Jesus.”

What happened?

This all started when Larsen started to push for Bitcoin to move away from its current “proof-of-work” model, which relies on crypto mining to validate transactions.

Larsen’s campaign (which includes digital advertisements, and involves organizations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club) advocates for Bitcoin to significantly change its method of mining to be less energy-intensive, and therefore less harmful to the environment.

The campaign does not demand one specific way to do this, but a press release, the executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, mentions possibly switching to proof-of-stake model which would get rid of mining altogether, or changing the proof-of-work method used for mining Bitcoin to be less energy intensive.

Bitcoiners are mad for a few reasons. Many felt Larsen’s asks are unreasonable, and that changing the crypto’s mining method is near impossible. They also questioned his motives, as he’s affiliated with a competing currency.

“[A]s a Bitcoin Node Operator and member of the Bitcoin High Priesthood that Controls the Protocol, I have duly considered Ripple's and Greenpeace's request to eliminate PoW from Bitcoin, and I hereby... deny it,” Nic Carter, co-founder of Coin Metrics and founding partner of crypto VC Castle Island Ventures, tweeted this week.

https://twitter.com/nic__carter/status/1508807379244175363

Bitcoin currently operates under a proof-of-work model, in which miners compete to solve complex puzzles to validate financial transactions. Each time a miner solves correctly, transactions are validated, and added to the blockchain. This process requires expensive computers, and a lot of energy.

Larsen told Fortune he fully supports proof-of-work, but wants to change in a way that incentivizes operating with less energy, and rewards miners for removing carbon from the atmosphere. It is unclear how this would be possible, and Larsen does not offer specific guidance.

“The whole question here in my mind is, ‘Could you find a codebase that is just as secure, but can do that?’” he said. “Then, you've incentive every miner to be on the solution side, not the problem side.”

For him, “the holy grail” would be transforming notoriously energy-intensive Bitcoin miners into “part of the solution to climate.”

"I could see a world where Ethereum becomes more valuable than Bitcoin because of [the] energy issue. And shouldn't that be a concern for the Bitcoin community?"

What it would take to change Bitcoin 

One reason the Bitcoin community is so incensed by Larsen's campaign is because they see it as unrealistic.

Bitcoin is not controlled by any one entity. Any proposed change to its blockchain protocol must be voted on and agreed to by the entire community to pass. But even if it did pass, it would not kill the current proof-of-work mining model.

Bitcoin miners would have to agree to update their software to run a new code. Some might, but many might not—that creates a "hard fork" in which Bitcoin would split into two different blockchains.

Even then, it’s unclear how a new code would allow Bitcoin miners to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Larsen is unclear about this as well, and his campaign doesn’t shed light on that either.

And finally, there is the Bitcoiner's widespread love of "proof of work" to begin with. Many Bitcoin holders defend it as necessary to keep the blockchain decentralized and secure.

“Awareness that there is a problem”

Many have speculated online about Larsen’s motivations behind the campaign.

Some don't understand why he didn’t submit a proposal to the Bitcoin community himself, rather than funding online ads saying Bitcoin should change its code. Others asked why he was focusing on Bitcoin alone instead of the thousands of other cryptocurrencies that use proof-of-work.

In response, Larsen said the goal of his campaign was to spread “awareness that there is a problem. There's a lot of greenwashing out there and denying that there's even a problem.”

He adds that Bitcoin is an outlier among other cryptocurrencies, the majority of which are shifting away from proof-of-work. For example, Ethereum is planning to move to proof-of-stake, which would make mining obsolete on that blockchain.

The Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance estimates that Bitcoin uses slightly more energy a year than Norway, at 138.6 terawatt hours compared to 124.3 terawatt hours respectively.

“Keep it proof-of-work if that's important to you—just as secure, but in a way that doesn't incentivize all this energy use. That's really the heart of the issue,” Larsen said.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com