‘I don’t own random ETFs with blood coin in them’

It appears that Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary no longer thinks bitcoin (BTC-USD) is “garbage.” The chairman of O’Shares ETF told Yahoo Finance Live that he’s allocated 3% of his portfolio to the world’s largest cryptocurrency after his native Canada, and a handful of other countries, eased restrictions on institutional buying of the asset.

O’Leary said he now views bitcoin as digital gold and a hedge against inflation that will appreciate over time, but he warns “there’s a big problem brewing” in the crypto space around how and where the coins are mined.

“I don’t own random ETFs with blood coin in them,” O’Leary said. “The industry has done a poor job in lobbying its case around sustainability.”

Bitcoin mining is extremely energy intensive. A single transaction of bitcoin has the same carbon footprint as 680,000 Visa transactions or 51,210 hours of watching YouTube, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.

The Oak Ridge Institute in Ohio found that a dollar’s worth of bitcoin took 17 megajoules of energy, that’s more than double the amount of energy it took to mine a dollar’s worth of copper, gold and platinum.

That poses serious ethical questions for corporations and governments looking to curb their own carbon footprints.

An employee works at the data centre of BitRiver company providing services for cryptocurrency mining in the city of Bratsk in Irkutsk Region, Russia March 2, 2021. BitRiver offers hosting services and turnkey solutions for cryptocurrency mining operations to institutional investors including bitcoin mining firms. Picture taken March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

“Currently 60% of coins mined in Bitcoin come from China where they don’t care about sustainability and they certainly have issues around human rights,” O’Leary said. “The actual provenance of a coin over time, one that’s mined sustainably, could be worth more than just a generic coin that can’t prove its provenance.”

When O’Leary announced in March that he would be adding bitcoin to his portfolio, he said he received “a mountain of calls” from institutional investors inquiring if he knew where the coins originated.

O’Leary said he’s working to ensure every coin he owns is compliant.

“I know the provenance of where my wallet coins were mined now, and that means I’ve had to take equity positions in miners. I’ve had to start investing in them with the covenants in place that I would like be paid back in a royalty of a clean coin,” he said.

O’Leary is currently in the process of organizing a “council of sustainability” in the crypto space that would be comprised of corporations and governments that are mining coins responsibly.

“I spent a lot of time talking to CEOs of miners and various entities that want me to invest in their mining operations” he said. “There’s no reason a North American miner can’t lead the way and take away the leadership from the Chinese who do not mine [coins] sustainably.”

Alexis Christoforous is an anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.