Not adding up

In fact, it is adding up. Way too up:

Google has reported that, since 2019, its emissions have grown by 48 percent, an enormous increase that reflects the vast amounts of energy used by artificial intelligence.

A.I. models run a huge number of calculations in short order, taxing computers and driving up energy consumption. “As we further integrate AI into our products, reducing emissions may be challenging due to increasing energy demands,” Google said in its report, released Tuesday. The surge in emissions puts the tech giant further away from its ambitious goal of zeroing out carbon footprint by 2030.

Google is not alone. Microsoft, which is also integrating A.I. into its products, has seen its emissions jump by 30 percent since 2020. It too has a goal of reaching net zero emissions by the end of this decade.

In its report, Google said that it is adopting practices that could dramatically reduce the energy needed to train an A.I. model. It also said that it is using A.I. to tackle climate change in three key ways: by guiding drivers along more fuel-efficient routes; by helping city engineers adjust the timing of stoplights to speed the flow of traffic; and by providing advanced flood warnings to people in more than 80 countries.

Still, the climate impact of A.I. is considerable. Google and Microsoft now have larger carbon footprints than Slovenia.

The marketing hype around A.I. that is far outstripping its current utility also perfectly elides its most profound impact: the electricity required for supercomputing. This gluttonous energy need is hard to overstate – making it very difficult to comprehend – and should be among the primary concerns about A.I., on par with its nefarious effects on news/entertainment, creative pursuits, and surveillance.

So, Siri, is A.I. scary, or just frighteningly impractical?

I reckon

What’s the best way to get there? We need to start taking everything into consideration:

To help users find more sustainable travel options, Google launched a feature Wednesday that will show a carbon-emissions estimate for almost every flight in its search results. Now, along with price and duration, travelers will be able to use environmental footprints to compare and choose flights.

James Byers, a senior product manager on the Google travel team, said the emissions estimates are based on a combination of factors, such as the distance of a trip, the number of stops, the number and class of seats on board, the type of aircraft, and data from the European Environment Agency.

The feature, which follows another eco-friendly feature for Google’s hotel searches, could be valuable in the fight against climate change, suggests Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Center at Texas Tech University.

It’s a shift in thinking, a pivot to including more of what has long been ignored. Will it catch on? Many right-wingers will surely choose the most rootin-tootin-pollutinest routes, rollin’ coal as much and for as far as they can. Many are certainly so inclined, and it may have just become easier to make them pay more for the pleasure.

For everyone else more sensible, this is potentially a good tool, allowing demand to push supply in a better direction.

Image: proposed rail network. (Not pictured, how to get North Americans to Europe, Africa, Asia)

Also possible without needing a pandemic

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus.

At the end of 2019, medical professionals in Wuhan, China, were treating dozens of pneumonia cases that had an unknown source. Days later, researchers confirmed the illnesses were caused by a new coronavirus (COVID-19). By January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities had shut down transportation going into and out of Wuhan, as well as local businesses, in order to reduce the spread of the disease. It was the first of several quarantines set up in the country and around the world.

The maps on this page show concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities. The maps above show NO2 values across China from January 1-20, 2020 (before the quarantine) and February 10-25 (during the quarantine). The data were collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. A related sensor, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite, has been making similar measurements.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liu recalls seeing a drop in NO2 over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual. Scientists also observed a significant reduction around Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, but the effect was mostly localized around that city, and pollution levels rose again once the Olympics ended.

It doesn’t take a disaster or even an emergency – beyond the one we have already created with the usual emissions levels. Reductions are possible. Disasters and loss are not mandatory, though we do make them inevitable to some extent by doing nothing. Still, these dramatic images should be instructional about what’s possible. It would be interesting to know the near-term implications of these reductions. You know, science.

The Nature of Envy

There’s a non-sensical story in here somewhere about harnessing the friction between the world’s two largest emitters of GhG’s to generate electricity, but I either can’t find it or look past it too easily.

He noted that China has recently leapfrogged over the United States to become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “They know the world’s radar is on them,” Mr. Ramesh said. “If transparency becomes the stumbling block, China doesn’t want to be blamed. If China is the only party holding out, they won’t collapse the negotiations.”

It’s Cancún, you see, anything can happen – unless december weekends are decidedly un-spring break-like. Actually, I don’t mean to be so flip. This is the United Nations – the group to which falls the tasks labeled ‘doing something’ when nobody wants to do anything. Nobody wanting anything done actually is another case entirely and has a conference of its own.

But another word, because something is escaping us here with all these willing and smart people gathered in one place, on envy, especially as the wrench ex machina of egalitarianism.

A different way in which envy might be thought to motivate broadly egalitarian thought is by appeal to the idea of envy-free allocations. A distribution of goods is said to be “envy-free” when no one prefers anyone else’s bundle of resources to her own.[] The suggestion here is not that envy is the psychological motivation for the concern with equality, but rather that, where a distribution in fact produces envy, this is grounds to doubt the fairness of the distribution. But ‘envy’ in these contexts is a technical term for any situation in which someone prefers another’s bundles of goods, and does not refer to the emotional syndrome with which this entry is concerned.[]

This is the chief virtue of resistance to economic changes and any greater changes in the way we power, light, ship and travel. The haves (look around you) are afraid that at the end of this dull day, we will all be reduced to just having the same things. When, really, taste, rather any kind of envy-free allocation, would never allow for such a thing – as this failure of imagination gainfully proves. So this brand of resisters really have nothing to worry about. Just not the way they usually expect to be beyond worry. Fear of the bottom, therefore, drives the refusal to alter any actions at the top. Let this be addressed.