Report: AI Expected to Increase Energy Consumption and Intensify Climate Misinformation

Assertions that AI will assist in addressing the climate emergency are misguided, as the technology is more likely to result in increased energy consumption and accelerate the dissemination of climate misinformation, according to a coalition of environmental organizations.

Improvements in AI have been promoted by major tech firms and the UN as a means to mitigate global warming, utilizing tools to monitor deforestation, detect pollution leaks, and track severe weather events. AI is already in use for predicting droughts in Africa and monitoring changes in melting icebergs.

Google, a company that has developed its own AI platform known as Bard (recently rebranded as Gemini) and is engaged in an AI initiative to enhance the efficiency of traffic lights, has been at the forefront of promoting emissions reductions through AI integration. A recent report by Google indicated that AI could potentially reduce global emissions by up to 10%, equivalent to the entire carbon output of the EU by 2030. Kate Brandt, Google’s chief sustainability officer, emphasized the vital role of AI in addressing climate change, describing the technology as being on the cusp of significant advancements in environmental objectives.

Nevertheless, a recent report released by environmental organizations questions the positive impact of the AI revolution on the climate emergency, cautioning that the technology will lead to increased energy consumption from data centers and the proliferation of misinformation about climate science.

“There is a constant narrative that AI will be the savior of the planet, but this notion should be approached with skepticism,” stated Michael Khoo, director of the climate disinformation program at Friends of the Earth, a member of the Climate Action against Disinformation coalition responsible for the report.

“AI will not replace traditional combustion engines to a significant extent. The public will be shocked by the escalating energy consumption driven by AI in the future, as well as the influx of misleading information about climate change.”

The expanding energy demands of AI mean that the doubling of data centers to keep up with industry growth will result in an 80% increase in emissions that contribute to global warming, even with efforts to enhance the energy efficiency of these facilities as outlined in the new report.

In the US, there are indications that coal-fired power plants are being extended in their lifespan to meet the rising energy requirements of AI. Research indicates that in just three years, AI servers could consume as much energy as the entire country of Sweden.

The heightened energy demand is primarily attributed to the added complexity of AI operations, with AI queries consuming up to 10 times more computing power than standard online searches. Training ChatGPT, the OpenAI system, can consume as much energy as 120 US households in a year, according to the report.

“There is no evidence to support the claim that AI will reduce energy consumption; all signs point to a significant increase in energy usage due to the establishment of new data centers,” explained Khoo. “While there may be some efficiency gains in data centers, the bottom line is that carbon emissions will rise.”

AI will further impede efforts to address the climate crisis by providing a convenient platform for individuals or entities to spread false or distorted information about climate science and the consequences of rising global temperatures, according to the coalition’s report.

This will exacerbate the existing situation where major social media platforms, like Twitter/X, have already become breeding grounds for climate science denial, critics of AI argue.

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“We anticipate that AI will fragment the information landscape precisely when we need to consolidate it,” Khoo remarked. “AI is an ideal tool for inundating the public with low-quality, rapidly produced content. It is evident how AI can be utilized to propagate climate misinformation. We can expect a relentless distribution of disinformation on climate change tailored to specific audiences.”

The report recommends greater transparency regarding the energy consumption of AI, along with measures to monitor the dissemination of false climate information.

Jesse Dodge, senior research scientist at the Allen Institute for AI, expressed similar concerns about the potential use of AI to promote climate misinformation, using methods such as deepfake videos and images, as well as contributing to carbon emissions through increased energy usage.

“In general, this is cause for concern,” he stated. “The application of AI itself, however, may have a more significant impact than its electricity or water consumption. AI serves as an accelerant, enabling faster execution of tasks, which could expedite the extraction of oil, but on the other hand, we have six teams utilizing AI to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“One team focuses on climate modeling, another on monitoring illegal fishing and endangered species, as well as predicting and tracking wildfires. We believe that there is an overall positive outcome, representing a worthwhile trade-off.”

Dodge cautiously expressed optimism about the largely positive impact of AI on the climate crisis, emphasizing the need for companies to be fully transparent and open about their energy usage.

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