Mediaite caught up with CNBC Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary at the 2021 Bitcoin Conference in Miami on Saturday, and took the opportunity to ask him why he’s part of the emerging class of millionaires and billionaires who insist on perpetuating an inaccuracy about bitcoin’s environmental sustainability.
O’Leary is often referenced ironically as “Mr. Wonderful” for sharing caustic criticism with Shark Tank guests whose business proposals fall short of his standards, and for his hard-charging efforts to make money at nearly any cost — such as the time he tried to convince 12-year-old bowtie maker Moziah Bridges to give him a $3 lifetime commission on every tie he made. (Co-hosts Mark Cuban and Daymond John successfully warned Bridges to decline the offer, and he went on to build a bowtie empire.)
Politically, O’Leary also leans to the right, waging an unsuccessful campaign to lead the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017. Thus, it may seem surprising that he has also been vocal in claiming that bitcoin poses an environmental concern due to the fact that creating it consumes electricity. In effect, the digital currency comes from plugging in graphics cards — or computers — and simply allowing them to run a program. The idea that this poses a problem has been popular with some celebrities in recent days, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Yet, naysayers rarely acknowledge the fact that mining has already produced about 90 percent of the 21 million bitcoins that can come into creation. It is fair to point out that it will take about 120 years to finish mining the few that remain, but for all practical purposes, the “damage” is done. Mediaite asked O’Leary to explain the concern over electricity that had already been spent.
Mediaite: Why do environmentalist, save-the-earth types like yourself talk about the environmental impact of bitcoin when it’s effectively all said and done? Eighteen million coins have already been mined. There are only 3 million remaining.
O’Leary: Two-and-a-half million. It’s because institutions won’t buy it until this problem is solved. I completely understand the discussion about why it could be a red herring, but it doesn’t matter. These institutions won’t buy it until we somehow come up with a solution. We need to solve that, because there’s a trillion dollars worth of buying power that we’re not getting to.
O’Leary said investment institutions standing on the sidelines would typically invest around 3 percent of their holdings in cryptocurrency if they found it palatable, accounting for the $1 trillion figure. He expanded on that notion in a panel at the conference, telling attendees that they needed to cultivate new “messaging” about their product for institutions “beholden” to ESG committees, which create guidelines for investing based on environmental and social concerns.
“A tremendous amount of interested capital that wants to come into this asset class, that can’t do it right now, because it’s got the wrong messaging around it,” O’Leary said. “The truth is, bitcoin’s actually good for the environment, because it’s forcing these miners to find the most efficient way to create the power to do the mining. There’s no other industry that does that.”
“As a sector, as an industry, as a voice, we have failed,” he added. “We have not delivered that message successfully. It’s going to start here today.”
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