Benjamin Von Wong, acclaimed photographer, multimedia artist, and activist, built an 11-foot tall skull, the “Skull of Satoshi,” covered in electronic waste (E-waste) to “expose Bitcoin’s impact on climate change.”
While everything people do online consumes energy, Bitcoin mining and transactions are especially energy-hungry activities. Researchers at the University of New Mexico found that Bitcoin’s environmental footprint is similar to extracting and refining crude oil.
Von Wong notes that while a single Google search consumes about 1,080 Joules of energy, just one Bitcoin transaction consumes a disastrous 6,995,000,000 Joules. That’s nearly 6.5 million times more energy than Googling something and nearly 24,300 times more energy than streaming an hour of Netflix consumes.
However, many people don’t fully understand Bitcoin and even those who use Bitcoin might not realize the damage it causes and how it affects climate change. Von Wong’s latest project is designed to bring attention to the issue. He has regularly used stunning art and photography to raise awareness of social and environmental issues. Last year, one of Von Wong’s images became the symbol of the United Nations’ global plastic treaty. It wasn’t Von Wong’s first foray into raising awareness about the detrimental effects of plastic and pollution. In 2016, he created a stunning photo of a mermaid that had been beached by plastic bottles.
Von Wong’s fight against E-waste is another example of the photographer’s ambitious ideas, passion, and excellent execution. Bitcoin uses about twice as much energy as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple combined. Bitcoin energy demands have increased by 100 times in the last five years.
The giant skull at the center of Von Wong’s new image was built using wood, recycled Styrofoam, and over 300 pieces of electronic waste. Von Wong worked alongside a mechanical engineer, Jeremy, and fabricators Elana and Joel. The E-waste they used arrived courtesy of nonprofit Unirecycle.
Bitcoin mining generates more than 30,000 tons of E-waste annually, so Von Wong wanted to cover the piece in circuit boards. It was a monumental task, as the team needed to manually sort, organize, and fit every part onto the skull.
The “Skull of Satoshi” took about 1,000 hours of work and was brought to life in an abandoned warehouse. The building, used with permission by a demolition company hired to dismantle the structure, gives the images a dystopian, gritty vibe. Long tube lights add a cyberpunk feel to the shots.
Von Wong included models in suits in the work because these are the people he hopes to reach. Institutional and financial investors support Bitcoin at the expense of the climate. The skull’s eyes feature red lasers as an allusion to the “laser eye” profile pictures used by some Bitcoin supporters. Von Wong even created laser eyes for his volunteer models to wear using red fairy lights.
Over the next few months, the giant “Skull of Satoshi” will travel as part of the campaign for sustainable Bitcoin as Greenpeace will take it on tour. Many people were involved in the campaign, and a full list of credits is available on Benjamin Von Wong’s blog.
Image credits: Benjamin Von Wong.