Climate Groups to Biden: AI Will Worsen Climate Change Crisis

Climate Groups to Biden: AI Will Worsen Climate Change Crisis

An open letter to the White House from 17 major climate change and anti-disinformation groups says President Joe Biden and his administration have largely ignored the toll AI is already taking on a fast-warming world. At the top of these groups’ demands is a new rule executive order that would big tech to share just how energy-hungry the big push for AI truly is.

The climate group’s letter centers on two main points. One, AI is already working to amplify the mass amounts of climate change disinformation spread online. Two, the tech companies’ big push into AI will exacerbate the energy demands, potentially doubling the overall energy use of companies training and employing these AI models. The letter was signed by major climate groups including Greenpeace USA, Fight for the Future, and Climate Action Against Disinformation. Several more anti-disinformation groups such as the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Tech Oversight Project also put their names to the letter.

The letter tries to take the president to task for not mentioning the potential harms to the climate in any of its recent declarations, including the White House’s recent AI executive order. In part, the order instructed the secretary of energy and national climate advisor to work with companies to create AI tools to mitigate climate change risks. The Biden administration has held several roundtables with some of the most influential folks in AI, from company executives to AI ethics experts, but lacking in those talks was somebody to reference AI’s potential impact on climate change.

The climate groups said that the “basic transparency” rules needed to contain AI’s harms weren’t included in Biden’s executive order. AI evangelists have talked up the technology’s ability to predict long-term climate data or potentially optimize systems, leading to less energy use. The climate groups dismiss those lofty goals by pointing to current-day harms, including mass amounts of online disinformation being generated with AI tools and spread over social media.

“Unfounded hype from Silicon Valley says that AI can save the planet sometime in the future but research shows the opposite is actually occurring right now,” the letter reads.

Worse, companies racing to build bigger and bigger models have only exacerbated the amount of energy they use and expanded data centers’ water cooling demands. Multiple studies show how artificial intelligence takes up a hell of a lot of power, and that in just a few years AI could demand as much power as the entire country of Sweden if things keep on the current path. The letter says that despite claims AI is increasing efficiency in data centers, “current estimates are that it could more than double energy use.”

The climate groups asked the White House to require that companies share data on the energy use and emissions produced by the full lifecycle of AI models, from training to implementation. The letter also asked Biden to mandate a new study on the impacts AI can have on climate disinformation, and then force companies to share details of how generative AI models can produce misinformation.

Despite his self-stated “alarm” about the rise of large language models, Biden has kept from fully flexing his executive muscles on AI. Instead, he’s mostly relied on pronouncements like last year’s “AI Bill of Rights” and non-binding agreements for companies to limit the potential harms from AI. Many of these companies promising to develop AI safely also have direct ties to the U.S. military-industrial complex, so there’s a sense among some AI skeptics that the Biden administration isn’t being firm enough to halt potential harms.

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