Generative AI could ‘supercharge’ climate disinformation, report warns

7 March 2024, 13:24

AI climate crisis warning
AI warning. Picture: PA

Researchers also highlighted the enormous amount of water and energy consumption that AI systems require.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to “supercharge” climate disinformation, a report has warned.

The Climate Action Against Disinformation coalition (CAAD), which includes groups like Friends of the Earth, InfluenceMap and the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, published a report on Thursday that maps the risk AI poses in the climate crisis.

The research found that generative AI could escalate disinformation online, including climate-related deepfakes, during an election year when countries like the UK and the US head to the polls with environmental policies at the centre of some campaigns.

The report said unregulated AI “will allow climate deniers to more easily, cheaply and rapidly develop persuasive false content and spread it across social media, targeted advertising and search engines”.

The researchers cited the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos, which identified AI-generated misinformation and disinformation as the world’s greatest threat, followed by climate change.

They also highlighted recent campaigns like wind power being falsely blamed as a cause of whale deaths in New Jersey and power outages in Texas.

“AI will only continue this trend as more tailored content is produced and AI algorithms amplify it,” the report said.

CAAD also found that the current policy landscape reveals a lack of regulation in the US and Europe, which rely on voluntary and opaque pledges to pause development or provide safety measures.

Researchers also highlighted the enormous amount of water and energy consumption that AI systems require to operate, as well as the speed at which consumption is growing.

They cited the International Energy Agency’s estimates that energy use from data centres that power AI will double in the next two years, consuming as much energy as Japan.

Oliver Hayes, head of policy and campaigns at Global Action Plan, said: “The climate emergency cannot be confronted while online public and political discourse is polluted by fear, hate, confusion and conspiracy.

“AI is supercharging these problems, making misinformation cheaper and easier to produce and share than ever before.

“In a year when two billion people are heading to the polls, this represents an existential threat to climate action.”

Charlie Cray, senior strategist at Greenpeace USA, said: “The skyrocketing use of electricity and water, combined with its ability to rapidly spread disinformation, makes AI one of the greatest emerging climate threat multipliers.

“Governments and companies must stop pretending that increasing equipment efficiencies and directing AI tools towards weather disaster responses are enough to mitigate AI’s contribution to the climate emergency.”

CAAD said it is calling on politicians to implement climate concerns into proposed AI legislation.

Recommendations in the report included AI companies publicly reporting on energy usage and emissions, being able to publicly demonstrate their products are safe for users and the environment, and to introduce rules on investigating and mitigating the climate impacts of AI with strong penalties for non-compliance.

By Press Association

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