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Climate Change

Is AI ruining climate change progress? Experts are sounding the alarm.

"That's the equivalent of pouring out a bottle of water and powering a lightbulb for 15 minutes."

Everybody is using AI, it may be ruining climate change progress

Most people don't really think about the inner workings of a computer, nor do they think about how the internet works. Unless you're in the field of technology, nothing about how websites are generated or how search engines get their information is given much of a second thought.

As long as everything works as expected and loads quickly, people don't generally care to know how things happen in the mysterious cloud that is the entirety of the internet. Now that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is free for use, there's just as little thought put into the mechanics of how it works. Granted, people are worried about other implications of AI, but what signal sends what where, isn't on the radar of average internet users.

The Piedmont Environmental Council sat down with "Now This" to ring the alarm on a relatively unknown fact about the use of AI–it's detrimental to climate change.

That likely sounds dramatic. How could a program free on the internet cause ill-effect to the climate? Humans have been in a race to combat climate change globally for decades. We've been hearing about making the switch to renewable energy, using public transportation, and recycling as key ways to reduce our impact on the quickly changing climate. There has not been a public service announcement about...the internet.

Since AI is a little more involved than "just the internet," it is requiring more energy to power it.

"A lot of people think of the internet as just being in the cloud. Really it is taking up this huge space of these gigantic computers, which are data centers," Julie Bolthouse, Director of Land Use for Piedmont Environmental Council tells the outlet.

There are over 300 data centers in Northern Virginia alone, that take up over 100 million square feet and use a lot of energy.

Ann Bennett, Data Center Chair of Virginia Sierra Club explains, "artificial intelligence requires servers to run much hotter. Water cooling will be necessary and where will that water come from?"

"One ChatGPT request for example, that's the equivalent of pouring out a bottle of water and powering a lightbulb for 15 minutes. If you multiply that by billions of requests, you can start to see the cumulative impacts," shares Ashish Kapoor, Senior Policy Analyst at Piedmont Environmental Council.

Watch the entire interview below:

AI may be an interesting new piece of the internet but with our climate already reaching crisis levels according to multiple scientists, there may be a few things that need to be worked out. Hopefully as the technology evolves and environmental agencies keep an eye on the unforeseen consequences, a more sustainable system will be discovered for the continued use of AI.