AI’s Climate Impacts Could Hit Marginalized Populations Hardest

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A Brookings Institution report warns energy-hungry artificial intelligent tech will worsen climate crisis

| It’s been celebrated for its potential to save lives through improved forecasting during deadly weather.

But artificial intelligence also plays “a significant role in exacerbating the climate crisis” and could widen gaps that have left marginalized people highly vulnerable to global warming, warns a Brookings Institution Report released Tuesday.

“By fundamentally changing how we live, both AI and climate Change could tip the scales of U.S. communities in ways that are unfair or unjust,” says the report, written by two Brookings Metro analysts and a visiting fellow.


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The report from the left-leaning think tank cited comments earlier in January by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who said at the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, that “we still don’t appreciate the energy needs of this technology.”

The authors have highlighted AI’s soaring energy consumptionAs it performs increasingly complex tasks. According to the report, training a bot requires about the same energy that 1 million U.S. houses consume in an hr.

“The more we ask models to perform wide-ranging tasks, the greater the amount of energy and carbon necessary,” the report says.

AI data centers are not only a source of greenhouse gases but also require large areas of land, and consume a lot of water.

“With climate change creating droughts and water shortages, data centers face heightened scrutiny for their unsustainable practices,” the authors wrote, adding that some projects in the Southwest “strain communities already ravaged by water scarcity.”

The report is a sharp contrast to other research touting AI’s potential to help with climate change by Making storm forecasts more accurateYou can find it quickly. A report by the Government Accountability Officein December said that AI could “significantly speed up forecasting,” which would lead to “more timely [emergency] responses that can save lives and property.”

The Brookings authors acknowledged AI’s potential but warned that the technology’s environmental costs could fall disproportionately on people of color and low-income communities.

“AI is a vital tool to reduce climate harm, but it cannot be allowed to further inflame disproportionate negative health and environmental outcomes for underserved communities,” the report says.

AI’s climate impacts are heaviest in areas already reliant on fossil fuels, which are often near poor communities, the report says. “These circumstances could perpetuate historical environmental inequities related to extreme heat, pollution, air quality, and access to potable water.”

Two papers published in July in Nature warned about potential limitations of AIYou can also find out more about the following: weather forecasting, saying the technology learns forecasting from historical weather data that does not include recent major hurricanes and heat waves.

The report was written Brookings Metro Senior Associate Manann Dooghoe. Senior fellow Andre Perry, and visiting fellow Joseph Keller also contributed to the report.

Donoghoe, Perry and others wrote an essay in March that called for U.S. climate reparations from federal and state government agencies. Reparations would involve both monetary payments and “a shift toward a more equitable and antiracist climate change policy,” they wrote.

Perry has written and spoken about race and the persistent racial inequality in wealth in the U.S.

Reprinted from E&E NewsPOLITICO, LLC. has granted permission to use this material. Copyright 2023. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

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