- The merge, Ethereum’s long-awaited and technically staggering switch to a proof-of-stake consensus system, has finally happened.
- The colossal move officially marks the joining of Ethereum’s mainnet execution layer with its Beacon Chain consensus layer. Ethereum developers created the Beacon Chain in 2020, and until now, it has been running in parallel with the Ethereum mainnet.
- Having officially switched from its original proof-of-work consensus mechanism, the Ethereum blockchain’s energy consumption is expected to fall to between 99.5 and 99.99 percent.
Why it matters
NFTs have long held a (somewhat unjustified) reputation for being environmentally disastrous, as the blockchains most rely upon operate on energy-intensive proof-of-work consensus mechanisms. This system requires computers in the blockchain network to perform complex, cryptographically-rooted calculations to add blocks to the chain.
An energy-intensive system by design, PoW consensus is one method of ensuring security on the blockchain network and preventing anyone from messing with the public ledger that is the blockchain itself. Until today, Bitcoin and Ethereum’s combined energy consumption sat somewhere between the annual energy consumption of Italy and the United Kingdom. Perspective is crucial, however, as the energy requirements of Bitcoin, the biggest environmental offender in the blockchain space, don’t even crack what Google, Apple, and Amazon need to run their data centers.
With Ethereum’s merge, its blockchain has dropped off that map almost entirely. While it’ll take some time to measure the actual energy consumption of its new PoS system, both Ethereum developers and independent blockchain experts predict a drop of anywhere from 99.5 to 99.99 percent. That’s orders of magnitude less energy consumption, and a huge win for Web3 as it moves into the future.
Wait for the fork. Not everyone is happy about Ethereum’s merge, as the move potentially puts the thousands of crypto miners that kept its PoW system running out of a job. Groups of miners, like EthereumPOW, have made plenty of noise recently about forking (splitting) the network and continuing a PoW-powered Ethereum blockchain (called ETHW). The group has announced its intention to fork the network within 24 hours of the merge.
If they do, this could lead to a duplication of digital assets from the official Ethereum chain (up until the moment of the fork). The decentralized nature of the blockchain means there is no governing body to declare these assets, whether ETH or NFTs, as invalid. However, since most Web3 groups and denizens plan on following Ethereum as it moves into PoS, there is a general consensus that the assets on that chain will remain the legitimate ones.
Regardless, be on the lookout for bad actors attempting to sell off assets from the forked chain or anyone telling you that you’ve got extra ETH on the network that they can help you liquidate. You don’t need to do anything with your ETH or NFTs to “update” or “sync up” with the new version of the Ethereum blockchain.