Science & Tech

World Wildlife Fund hit with backlash after releasing 'eco-friendly' NFTs

World Wildlife Fund hit with backlash after releasing 'eco-friendly' NFTs
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Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been taking over the internet – they've become even more popularised thanks to the swarm of celebrity investors. But now, NFTs have turned the heads of leading conservation charity World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – and people are furious.

For the blissfully unaware, a non-fungible token (NFT) is essentially a 'token' to say you own a digital item.

Ownership is tracked through the blockchain, a system that records information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat the system. Each NFT will have a different level of value and popularity – think of it almost like a Pokémon trading card.

In an announcement on Twitter, WWF UK revealed they would be releasing 13 endangered species in the form of NFTs, including gorillas, rhinos and orangutans. They hoped that by selling the digital artwork on an “eco-friendly” blockchain, they could raise funds for awareness and to put into conversation work.

However, most NFT transactions rely on a cryptocurrency called Eth, supported by the blockchain Ethereum. According to Statista, a single Ethereum transaction has the same carbon emissions as 140,000 Visa transactions.

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While the organisation's tweet claims one transaction on Polygon has the equivalent carbon emissions of a single glass of tap water, Dr Catherine Flick, senior researcher in computing and social responsibility at De Montfort University, explained to Sky News that just because a Polygon transaction uses less Ethereum, it doesn't make it eco-friendly.

"It also requires Eth to buy the NFTs, and future transactions of the NFTs will be reliant on Eth as well," she said. "I don't know of any fully environmentally or climate friendly mainstream NFT implementations that are trustworthy."

She added: "Most of them rely on environmentally problematic cryptocurrencies for transactions or are side-chains to problematic blockchains."

While the intention was there, people of Twitter reacted furiously to WWF's announcement – with some threatening to cancel their donations.

"Horrific idea, sorry to the social team that had to post it," one said. "No Blockchain could even be tenuously described as 'Environmentally Friendly', and even if this one was, you're still promoting the minting and trade of ALL NFT's, which f**k over the habitats you're trying to protect."

Another added: "This is terrible. Everything about this. The blockchain is not eco friendly. Either you’re intentionally lying, or got duped yourselves."

This isn't the first time WWF have found themselves in hot water.

Last year, WWF Germany released "non-fungible animals" on Polygon, which also stirred up a similar negative reaction.

WWF told indy100: “We are always looking at innovative ways to engage WWF supporters and fundraisers and trial new ideas. This is a hugely expanding area that many other organisations and some charities are already operating in, and we are keen to build up our knowledge.

“We know that NFTs are a much debated issue and that this is an untested market, which is why this was planned as a very small, time-limited test of 13 NFTs, built on Polygon which has negligible environmental impact.

“The money WWF-UK earns from these sales will go towards our vital conservation work across the globe to tackle the climate and nature crisis.

“We will be fully assessing the impact of this exercise including its comparative carbon impact.”

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