Shut Up About NFTs

As non-fungible tokens become more and more popular, mainstream opinions grow very polarized. It’s for the best that we recognize the many problems with NFTs and stop wasting energy on them.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cover Image
By Vanessa Huang

Recently, Reese Witherspoon, Eminem, Tony Hawk, Jimmy Kimmel, Serena Williams, and countless other celebrities publicly displayed their NFTs to flex their wealth and “taste.” For the past year, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have gained great popularity in online circles. An NFT is a virtual asset that proves ownership of a specific online product, generally artwork. Many people hate on NFTs for being relatively pointless, but there are many other reasons to dislike the newest “crypto-bro” trend that are more serious and less often addressed.

While it may seem that NFTs allow artists to profit off of their artwork in a new way, the reality is that anonymous thieves frequently steal genuine digital artwork and pass it off as their own property to sell online. The sites used for selling and buying NFTs are highly unregulated, so putting someone else’s artwork up as an NFT does not technically violate the artist’s statutory copyright. Since something more akin to a receipt, rather than the actual artwork, is being bought and sold online, current legislation doesn’t cover the novel concept of NFTs at all. As a result, the NFT industry is stealing the work of many artists, and the legal system hasn’t been able to stop this practice.

Other than the clear ethical problems with NFTs, there are physically manifested harms. The significant environmental effects of NFTs are not often at the forefront of the NFT conversation. Yet, like the mining of cryptocurrency, the creation of an NFT is done by computer, with the mining and ownership processes frequently completed on the high-energy Ethereum blockchain and altogether creating a very high carbon footprint. The creation of a normal Ethereum NFT wastes over 142 kWh of energy, in addition to pumping out greenhouse gases. The average American citizen uses less than 10 percent of that quantity for all daily activities, including Internet usage and travel. French digital artist Joanie Lemercier planned to unveil an NFT of her own artwork. Upon realizing that the 10-second process would require the same amount of energy she had used to power her studio for the past two years, she called it off entirely. Relative to everyday activities, the carbon footprint generated per NFT is ridiculously big for a digital proof-of-purchase and simply not worth it.

In many ways, NFTs are a method for the rich to show off their wealth. Some NFTs cost millions of dollars without physically manifesting as anything. It is hard to see them as something other than a crass display of money. The Bored Ape Yacht Club (a well-known producer of NFTs) sold a “rare” ape for over $3.4 million on October 26, 2021. Headlines were made, with some claiming that this was “an NFT with historical significance,” because less than one percent of NFT apes have gold fur. The price, $3.4 million, is twice the amount the median American makes in a whole lifetime, and spending that sum of money on a hyperlink of an image of a “rare” and “gold” ape is indisputably an ostentatious waste.

Some celebrities don’t stop at buying and showing off their NFTs, but try to also profit off of them: many have started to sell personal NFTs to their adoring fans. Instances of influencers scamming gullible followers are not unusual, but NFTs allow stars to scam everyday people on a much greater scale. When celebrities launch makeup brands or merchandise, they usually charge up to $50 for cheap, poor-quality products. Snoop Dogg recently started selling NFTs for, at the lowest, 0.369 ETH (just short of $1,000), which is significantly more expensive than a cakey makeup kit or scratchy hoodie. Although celebrity brands usually offer poor products, these are typically usable or wearable, at the very least. Some fans of Snoop Dogg and other celebrities who sell NFTs are wasting well over $1,000 just for the hyperlink to a pixelated image “supporting their idols.”

NFTs are altogether a huge waste of time, money, and energy. They exist inside of a bubble, and since they are non-fungible, they are not an exchangeable future currency. It would be best if we could all just shut up about NFTs and forget about them, like any other damaging trend.