Edward Markey takes on AI: questions its climate impacts!

Senator Edward J. Markey, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety, introduced the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act of 2024. The legislation would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop standards to measure and report the full range of artificial intelligence’s (AI) environmental impacts, as well as create a voluntary framework for AI developers to report environmental impacts. 

The legislation also requires an interagency study to investigate and measure both the positive and negative environmental impacts of AI. While researchers increasingly highlight that AI can help tackle environmental challenges, such as by accelerating clean energy innovation, providing better weather forecasts, and improving cooling efficiency, the rapid growth of AI also comes with environmental harms. 

For instance, the surge in AI adoption may double data center electricity consumption by 2026, resulting in increased carbon emissions. The escalating demand for water to cool these centers raises concerns about water scarcity, while the production of AI chips contributes to a burgeoning electronic waste problem.

“There is a Dickensian quality to the use of AI when it comes to our environment: It can make our planet better, and it can make our planet worse,” said Senator Markey. “Our AI Environmental Impacts Act would set clear standards and voluntary reporting guidelines to measure AI’s impact on our environment. The development of the next generation of AI tools cannot come at the expense of the health of our planet. I thank Senator Heinrich, Representative Eshoo, and Representative Beyer, for their partnership in making sure that AI contributes to a more livable future for generations to come.”

“AI offers incredible possibilities for our country, but that comes with high environmental costs,” said Representative Eshoo. “The resources necessary to research and develop AI are intensive, and as AI systems grow in scale and become more widely used across various sectors of society, it’s critical to understand the environmental impacts of AI development and use. I’m proud to introduce the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act to conduct a comprehensive study on AI’s environmental impacts, identify standards needed to measure those impacts, and create a system for AI developers to report the full range of their environmental impacts.”

“Understanding the environmental impacts of this quickly growing technology is critical so that we can begin to address those impacts,” said Representative Beyer. “While recognizing the ways AI can help us decrease emissions in other sectors and develop innovative climate solutions, we need to ensure we are being responsible with the adverse impacts it may have on our environment now.”

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