Her name is Zoë Roth. She was four years old in 2005, when a house caught on fire in her neighborhood, and families around the block showed up to watch the fire department extinguish the flame. Her dad, Dave, snapped a photo of her in which her slight grin turned just a trifle impish and her eyes took on a mischievous, vaguely sinister light. The photo made friends laugh so he entered it into a local contest and it spread from there. “Disaster Girl” was born. You’ve almost certainly seen it.
Roth is now 21 years old and she sold the original copy of her meme as a nonfungible token for 180 Ether — a type of cryptocurrency. As of now, that translates to about $495,000, according to the New York Times. It’s the latest example of the NFT takeover, with digital artists, meme makers and online media influencers seeing it as a way to retain ownership of the work they do and make a little money in the process. Or, in Roth’s case, a lot of money. She’s a senior at University of North Carolina and that money will go a long ways towards knocking out those student loans (she also plans to donate a chunk to charity, she told the NYT).
— ☆Chris☆ (@PRguitarman) April 17, 2021
It shows a way forward for other meme kids like David After Dentist (“is this real life?”), Success Kid and Bad Luck Brian to have a little more control over their online personas. That’s a good thing, But many environmental advocates are growing concerned about the booming NFT industry, which takes an astonishing toll on the planet. Ethereum mining takes about 26.5 terawatt-hours of electricity a year — about as much as the entire country of Ireland, according to Time Magazine. There is virtually no renewable energy presence in cryptocurrency mining right now, meaning it consumes more energy for every dollar of value than gold or even copper, according to one study.
It’s a strange case of an entirely online activity having unforeseen real, physical world costs that feel far removed from the buyers and sellers themselves, even though it might be “humanity’s most direct way of making money by polluting the planet,” according to journalist Alejandro De La Garza.
“If you are buying an artwork you don’t see those calculations going on,” Alex de Vries told Time. De Vries is a financial economist and the founder of a site called Digiconomist, which raises awareness about the unintended impact of technological advancements.
“You don’t see your money is going to a miner who’s going to pay for fossil fuel-based energy with it,” he continued. “That’s a real problem.”
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.