Benjamin Von Wong, the Canadian artist who became Crypto Twitter's main character last week after unveiling his “Skull of Satoshi” installation, said the work “was never meant to be anti-Bitcoin.”
“It was an optimistic hope that Bitcoin could shift away from the needless burning of fossil fuels without losing all the other features that make Bitcoin safe, secure, and decentralized,” Von Wong wrote in a Twitter thread.
He also said that when he began working on the installation, he genuinely believed that Bitcoin mining, which uses the proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithm, 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," wrote Von Wong. "Of course, I was wrong.”
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” was unveiled last week as part of the year-long campaign helmed by Greenpeace, the international environmental NGO, which seeks to highlight “the enormous climate impact” of Bitcoin mining.
The initiative, supported by the other environmental organizations and the likes of Ripple co-founder Chris Larsen, is called “Change the Code, Not the Climate” and seeks to move Bitcoin to a more environmentally friendly proof-of-stake (Pos) mechanism. The move would mean changing the leading cryptocurrency's underlying code.
After the fierce backlash the idea received from the Bitcoin community, Greenpeace now says that it's "not necessarily suggesting that Bitcoin should switch to some existing form of PoS.”
“We are pointing to the fact that other cryptocurrencies realized that PoW has an energy problem and changed,” Rolf Skar, special projects manager at Greenpeace USA, told Decrypt. “Bitcoin is the laggard in this area and is sticking to decade-old technology while other newer cryptocurrencies are using different consensus mechanisms and cutting their carbon emissions.”
As for the artist himself, Von Wong said that he spent the last few days speaking to various members of the Bitcoin community and now wants “to take a pause and refrain from participating in more public discourse and spend more time quietly and privately observing and learning until I know exactly how my contributions can objectively contribute to helping the environment.”
“I needed to first string together some official responses to the Twitterverse and had been trying to digest all the different fragments of information that I was receiving from various places,” Von Wong told Decrypt. “I'm trying to better understand the nuance between progress and perfection.”
Changing the Bitcoin—mission impossible?
According to Greenpeace, which earlier hinted that transitioning Bitcoin to PoS would require a soft fork, the organization is “optimistic about technological innovation and human creativity, so we aren’t going to throw up our hands and declare that this is 'impossible.'”
“The climate crisis demands that we all–not just Greenpeace or Bitcoin–find ways to ensure a just and green future. We regularly work on issues that are objectively more complicated and difficult to figure out than changing Bitcoin’s code," Skar told Decrypt. "It is only impossible if we refuse to try.”
People working closely with Bitcoin, however, are far less optimistic.
“Every node in the Bitcoin network verifies the new block header to be smaller than the given number, defined by mining difficulty. If you change that rule, all nodes that don't want to update to a new software version will fall off the consensus. That effectively will create a hard fork situation,” Viacheslav Zhygulin, co-founder and CTO of stroom.network, a liquid staking protocol for the Bitcoin Lightning Network, told Decrypt.
According to Zhygulin, 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, and that there are “no chances” for a successful hard fork any time soon.
Unlike soft forks, hard forks are not backward-compatible and require all node operators on the network to update to the latest software at a specified time.
“There is virtually no chance that a hypothetical Bitcoin on PoS would be accepted as the original Bitcoin, and it's highly improbable that it would ever come into existence,” Phil Harvey, the CEO of Bitcoin mining consulting firm Sabre56, told Decrypt.
According to Harvey, the Bitcoin code has been designed “to be practically impossible to change,” as doing so requires agreement from all network participants.
“In the past, factions of nodes have hard-forked the code, but the resulting coins have not been considered Bitcoin anymore. This rigid design is largely due to the core developer and early adopter group's ideological commitment to the principles of sound money. While they might abandon Bitcoin, it's highly unlikely that they would ever switch to a PoS system,” said Harvey.
The Sabre56 founder also said that the value of digital assets stems from their ability to solve financial and other problems.
“Bitcoin's use case as a sound, decentralized, immutable, uncensored, globally accessible, and self-custodied reserve currency is intrinsically connected to PoW. Its pillars, such as the halving cycles, mining economics, and block validation, all rely on this consensus mechanism," Harvey told Decrypt. "Introducing PoS to the Bitcoin network would change its entire identity and value proposition.”