So… some of the coverage of COP28, when it’s not debating whether science supports eliminating all fossil fuels, has of course focused on our latest and shiniest of objects, AI.
Artificial intelligence has been a breakout star in the opening days of COP28, the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Entrepreneurs and researchers have dazzled attendees with predictions that the fast-improving technology could accelerate the world’s efforts to combat climate change and adapt to rising temperatures.
But they have also voiced worries about A.I.’s potential to devour energy, and harm humans and the planet.
We should just go with ‘machine learning’ but that train has apparently left the barn, been sold for parts and reassembled as an uncanny train. But there is a direct conflict with using inordinate computer power to push giant algorithms to solve immense problems, namely the word ‘power.’
Leaders at the companies developing A.I. technology have already cautioned that it could someday pose a risk of extinction to humanity, on par with nuclear war. Researchers at COP28 have focused on a different risk — that the computing power required to run advanced A.I. could be enormous. That electricity appetite could send emissions soaring and make climate change worse.
A peer-reviewed analysis published in October estimated that A.I. systems worldwide could use as much energy in 2027 as all of Sweden. That would almost certainly add to emissions, even though countries are lagging on their pledges to cut them. (A Boston Consulting Group study for Google also noted that powering A.I. would quite likely require vast quantities of water and produce an increasing amount of waste.)
So, here’s your query, Alexa/Google/Siri: if super-computing will require all of the energy we produce – what is energy or super-computing for?
Lot lady: What kind of car are you looking for?
Driver man: What kinds you got?
Lot lady: These kinds
California is poised to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles — a far-reaching policy that is likely to reverberate throughout the rest of the country and the world.
On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will issue the new rules that were first rolled out by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020, which would require 100 percent of new cars sold in the state to be free of carbon emissions, according to The New York Times.
The rule would phase in over time, with 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 and 68 percent by 2030. California says that over 16 percent of new car sales were “zero-emission vehicles” in 2022 — up from 12.41 percent last year and 7.78 percent in 2020.
Note those last few stats about percentages of non-ICE vehicles sold per year. That’s a very big jump and consumer choices are about to get very much wider.
Now, we’ll have to make indie renewable energy generation more commonplace, rooftop solar coming to your neighborhood house. Just enough to power your automobile would be a huge step in the right direction, but then what happens when it keeps working and electricity starts get cheap towards free? Then what will you do, huh? Didn’t think of that!
So… one man’s colossal miscalculation is another man’s a planet’s sped-up timeline for addressing climate change? I’m not trying not to see it that way, and energy efficiency guru Amory Lovins doesn’t need to convince me. But the winds are at somebody’s back:
Lovins, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has been one of the world’s leading advocates and innovators of energy conservation for 50 years. He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.
But for much of that time efficiency was seen as a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies. Now, he hopes, its time may have come. Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.
He sees Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as an outrage, but possibly also a step towards solving the climate crisis and a way to save trillions of dollars. “He has managed to bring about all the outcomes that he most feared, but he may inadvertently have put the energy transition and climate solutions into a higher gear. Whether or not we end up in a recession because of the disruption, [Putin’s war] may prove to be a great thing for climate economics.”
As he explains, solar and wind are among the cheapest bulk power sources, and Putin’s authoritarian misadventure has put energy externalities in the center of the frame.
Again, it’s the boringest, not-technology solutions that have the greatest effect. And there’s a lot to reckon with in what he says about nuclear:
The most energy-inefficient design of all, he says, may be nuclear power, which is heavily subsidised, costly and pushed by a politically powerful lobby. Using it to address shortages of electricity or to counter climate change, he argues, is like offering starving people rice and caviar when it’s far cheaper and easier to give just rice.
In a coming-of-age development (and maybe only into adolescence… but still) There’s now a satirical renewable energy ‘news’ site. Sustainably called The Sunion:
In a synthetic discovery broadly compared to the work of Galloway and Leach, NREL investigators tracing energy and capital flows between renewable energy systems, those systems’ project finance assumptions via primary-contracted-offtakers, the primary clients of those offtakers, and, in turn, the primary consumers of those offtakers, have discovered a previously uncharacterized, enclosed, and self-sustaining sunlight-to electricity-to-money-to bros-to-data-to-grift/crypto-to-porn-to-bros-to money-to light-to-electricity ecosystem that is nearly self sustaining without external reference or input and which may soon overtake photosynthesis and geotechnical processes in terms of overall magnitude of energy transfer in Earth’s biosphere.
Sure, why not? I guess it had to happen. Plenty to poke holes in about the way(s) we’re going about all of this, especially all the financialization through-the-looking-glass you’re actually at-an-Arby’s-drivethrough of it all. Bring it.
San Francisco has actually reached 80% diversion or Zero Waste this year. New York, which creates 1.5% of total global waste, currently recycles only 15% of it. State and federal government should provide legislation which designs a waste management policy right across the country. In the UK there is a similar situation in that, depending where you live, the waste management policies and goals differ greatly. I believe that most people would like to cooperate in reducing waste, but to encourage them the national policy should be clear, well advertised and consistent. Even within Greater London there is a huge discrepancy between council policies. I believe a national waste management initiative should be designed and implemented by government. Not to burn it or bury it, but to design and encourage its reduction and recycling. This time of rising unemployment seems ideally suited to the creation of a new and forward-thinking industry that could be profitable and create new jobs. If we became world leaders in recycling technology, then that expertise could be exported around the world.
I like the concept of zero waste, and/but it’s going to take a while to get it into the zeitgeist-y lexicon all the kids are slinging these days.
And it’s hard to believe we’re still talking about incineration – I was canvassing for MassPIRG on that issue in 1988.