For the Bitcoin faithful, February 8 may be remembered as a holy day—and for the Securities and Exchange Commission, it may be another reason to investigate the professional troll and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In a Monday morning SEC filing, Tesla revealed that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, adding itself to a roster of companies and investment funds that have poured billions into the preeminent cryptocurrency in the last year. Tesla said it would also start accepting Bitcoin as payment for its cars.
The news caused Bitcoin’s price to shoot up about 13 percent in early trading, but more than any short-term profits, it represents the culmination of a months-long campaign by Bitcoiners to get Musk to embrace Bitcoin and its attendant worldview, a messianic vision of a decentralized currency network leading to economic emancipation, with consumers free of the shackles of politics and central banks. Whether Musk actually believes Bitcoiner rhetoric—or, like any troll, is merely doing it for the lulz—is less important than what it represents: one of tech’s most celebrated companies making a huge commitment to its most controversial commodity.
The Bitcoin buy is also a clear indictment of Tesla’s, and Musk’s, image as an environmentally conscious innovator. There are few speculative assets more harmful to the climate than Bitcoin, which consumes a colossal amount of electricity. In an added irony, the SEC filing showed that Tesla had continued its long-standing practice of selling carbon credits. In 2020, Tesla sold about $1.58 billion worth of these credits—almost exactly the value of the Bitcoin purchased. It appears that to bulk up its paltry balance sheet (Tesla is a perennial money-loser), the company sold environmental credits and then funneled the proceeds into the digital equivalent of burning coal.
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