As cryptocurrencies and NFTs surge in popularity, their environmental impact remains a reliable cudgel of critics.
Rebecca Lamis, the co-founder of UnicornDAO, sees projects like the new Quantum Art installation in Santa Monica, Calif., as a way to change the narrative.
"In a lot of ways, this space is becoming more mainstream," Lamis told Decrypt at the Quantum grand opening last Friday. "NFTs have offered an opportunity to bring in communities that have never considered this space."
Quantum is located on the iconic 3rd Street Promenade and co-founded by NFT photographer Justin Aversano of "Twin Flames" fame. Lamis co-founded UnicornDAO with Pussy Riot's Nadya Tolokonnikova to support marginalized and underrepresented groups in Web3.
NFTs are blockchain-based tokens that show ownership over digital or physical assets.
As the NFT market has risen, fallen, and risen again—and has often been represented by million-dollar monkey JPEGs—critics have dismissed them as stupid, a money grab, a scam, or an environmental scourge due to how much energy is used to maintain the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFTs are minted.
Politicians have also lumped in NFTs with their concerns about crypto mining.
NFTs have faced significant pushback in particular from the gaming community. In November, chat app Discord, which built its user base from gamers and is now also popular with crypto groups, halted plans to integrate crypto wallets following overwhelming outcry from users.
In December, game studio GSC Game World canceled plans to add NFTs to its "S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2" title, and in February game developer Team17 canceled entirely its planned NFT game "MetaWorms" after gamers rejected the concept.
Lamis believes that despite the debate over NFTs, the conversation has allowed the space to grow further, as the general public is becoming curious and wants to learn more about NFTs and Web3.
She says that most of the people in Web3 she has worked with became active only in the last year, a sign the market is still in its very early innings.
"A lot of them are some of the most well-established artists globally, but they are making and generating more money from their art in one single [NFT] drop than they would traditionally do in a year," she said. "And that's so powerful." She and Aversano hope to use Quantum as a space for in-person connection and also education; Lamis hopes to open more locations across the country.
"I'm thrilled and really interested to see how it plays out, and how we could potentially change the narrative of 'NFTs are bad' and 'NFTs are not eco-friendly,'" Lamis says. "I think there's a lot of impact we can do in that capacity."