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Ethereum, The Merge, NFTs, Climate Change and Self Publishing

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


In August 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act was passed in the United States which provided a variety of economy boosting measures and incentives, many of them focused on dealing with climate change.

In spite of the good this aims to do on a national and global scale, it still may be difficult for us to assess our individual role in it. The amount of critical mass of personal efforts that would have to be achieved to positively move the climate change needle would be astounding. It’s really in the hands of governments and larger organizations to get these changes moving forward.

I’m not saying that we should give up because it’s hopeless, or that our actions don’t matter. Anything that helps change our behaviors for the better is a good thing. But we need to understand what’s possible.

So let’s discuss some recent developments and issues relating to climate change and self publishing.

The Merge of Ethereum and Impact on NFTs

According to an update on the Ethereum blog, The Merge of their blockchain to a more sustainable and climate friendly system will occur in September 2022. Big deal. What does that have to do with self publishing? It will impact NFTs.

I’ll quickly summarize it here. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are currently a hot, or not, way for creators to monetize their creative endeavors by selling digital assets to fans on NFT marketplaces. These marketplaces facilitate sales and transactions which are recorded on the blockchain. Even though it’s possible to sell your book as an NFT, it’s just not practical from a logistics standpoint. Most people will buy eBooks on the likes of Amazon with real currency, not crypto currency as NFTs require. Theoretically and technically, NFTs represent a potential income source for creators and authors, similar to sponsorship models like Kickstarter or GoFundMe.

The big problem with NFTs from a climate perspective is that they are on the blockchain. Without getting too technical, each transaction creates a secure, immutable record on the blockchain. Each transaction must be verified by every computer in the blockchain network. The computing power to handle all those worldwide transactions each year is enormous, estimated to be the annual energy usage of some entire smaller countries. Aside from the reason that I cannot imagine any way I could create value for my fans through NFTs, I also was turned off by the climate impact of offering NFTs.

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Ethereum is one of the primary blockchains on which NFT transactions are completed. They recognized how unsustainable the system is. Thus, The Merge. These transactions on Ethereum after the merge occurs are projected to take 99.95 percent less energy than before. It’s not zero, but it’s very low by comparison.

It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the blockchain world reacts and changes in response to Ethereum’s lead.

eBooks and Audio Books are Sustainable Self Publishing Options

I am still shocked that eBooks represent only 22.7 percent of readership in the United States. Print sales continue to be strong, even in spite of a pandemic.

Though they are not without environmental cost in devices, electrical usage, and storage to create and maintain, I believe eBooks and audio books are more sustainable options.

I am also amazed at how many self published authors in online forums and groups consider commercially printing hundreds or thousands of copies of their books just to get volume discounts. Some of these authors have zero sales history of selling books, or selling anything for that matter. Yet they’re willing to plunk down lots of cold, hard cash for printed book inventory, and willing to create more potential waste and carbon footprint.

New authors who have no sales track record could end up with dozens or hundreds of unsold printed books. That has a cost in trees, inks, production, and shipping that didn’t bring value to either the author or their fans. The disposal of unsold books presents another environmental cost if they go to a landfill instead of recycling.

Though print on demand book printing has costs in terms of paper, chemicals, and shipping, it is only a cost when an order is received from a customer. Until then, the main environmental cost is electrical energy to store the digital manuscript files on a computer server.

Skip the Swag

There is no reason for self published authors to purchase imprinted promotional products, or swag, for book promotion. It's expensive and has little potential for driving book sales. If it ends up in a landfill, it's also unsustainable from a planet perspective.

The Triple Bottom Line

Though your efforts are unlikely to make a massive difference in global sustainability, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think your planet friendly efforts are unimportant. Collective action does eventually bring change. Continue asking yourself how the production, sales, distribution, and delivery options for your book contribute to your bottom line without contributing to climate change. This is often referred to as the triple bottom line of people, profit, and planet.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne

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