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Peter Singer and SBF Talk Crypto's Environmental Impact, Russia-Ukraine, Helping the Unbanked

The pair had a deep chat about the moral implications of crypto during Camp Ethereal 2022.

3 min read
Peter Singer chats with Sam Bankman-Fried for Camp Ethereal 2022.

In a one-on-one discussion at this year's Camp Ethereal, powered by Decrypt, the Australian philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer spoke with FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried on a collection of topics that ranged from the Russia-Ukraine conflict to how crypto affects the environment.

As an ethicist, Singer was keen to pick Bankman-Fried’s brain about the moral role of crypto in today’s world. He began by raising concern over the industry’s energy consumption. 

Bankman-Fried responded by saying that lowering crypto’s carbon footprint is "absolutely something that needs to be taken on,” and that current proof-of-work blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum are "going to be sort of a non-starter long term, just because of the economics."

He also explained to Singer that alternative proof-of-stake protocols have “effectively zero environmental impact.”

“If we do end up living in a world where there's more and more crypto usage over time, we sort of have to end up living in a world where most of that scaling is happening through proof-of-stake systems that have very little energy costs, for environmental reasons,” Bankman-Fried said, adding: “I think one of the most fortunate things is that that's going to have to happen anyway. For economic reasons. There's a lot of economic pressure to fix this, the environmental problems here. And I think the way it's going to happen is that we're going see most transactions happening on proof-of-stake blockchains."

Singer, a professor at Princeton who's written and spoken extensively about altruism, also wanted to know whether Russia could use cryptocurrencies to dodge sanctions imposed after the nation's invasion Ukraine, noting that with crypto, one question “often raised is, does this—is this—a way in which the criminal underworld can can move money, and be protected from that being exposed, or people who are trying to avoid paying taxes.”

Bankman-Fried replied, "We basically haven't seen any attempts from Russia to move money through crypto. It is actually a little bit surprising to me the extent to which we haven't seen that.”

On the same topic, Singer and Bankman-Fried discussed how much of the aid channeled to Ukraine has been in cryptocurrency—tens of millions given through crypto so far,” Bankman-Fried noted, adding how “it’s a cool example of banking the unbanked.”

Singer called that a "big positive." Iff there are people who have crypto and are looking to donate some of it to charities, "then that’s a huge plus that comes out of this.”

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, Bankman-Fried added, illustrates a different version of unbanked or underbanked populations who could benefit greatly from increased financial opportunities.

"If there’s a tank outside your bank,” the FTX CEO continued, “you’re going to be more underbanked than you thought you were, so I think it’s been really been cool to see [crypto] give an international financial lifeline."

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