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Why Conscious AI Would Be Bad for the Environment

Image credit to Griffin Kiegiel and Sami Aksu

This is a guest post by Griffin Kiegiel.

Since the meteoric rise of ChatGPT in 2021, artificial intelligence systems (AI) have been implemented into everything from smartphones and electric vehicles, to toasters and toothbrushes. The long-term effects of this rapid adoption remain to be seen, but we can be certain of one thing: AI uses a lot of energy that we can’t spare. ChatGPT reportedly uses more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity daily, which is massive compared to the 29 kilowatt-hours consumed by the average American household.

As the global temperature and ocean levels rise, it is our responsibility to limit our collective environmental impact as much as possible. If the benefits of AI don’t outweigh the risks associated with increasing our rate of energy consumption, then we may be obligated to shut down AI for the sake of environmental conservation. However, if AI becomes conscious, shutting them down may be akin to murder, morally trapping us in an unsustainable system.

The climate justice debate has a baseline problem

Humanity faces a number of daunting challenges in the 21st century. Climate change and socioeconomic injustice figure prominently on this list. When it comes to tackling these challenges, two possible strategies divide policy makers.

On the one hand, there are those who point out that addressing either of these problems on their own is a mammoth task, and that taking them on simultaneously is simply utopian. This view sometimes comes with a dose of optimism about technological solutions to climate change. On the other hand, an increasing number of voices argue that climate action can’t be separated from social justice. In particular, advocates of the latter position highlight the “triple inequality of climate change”: The global rich tend to pollute disproportionately and thus bear a heightened responsibility for climate change, the global poor are more vulnerable to its effects, and poor countries have fewer resources available for mitigation and adaptation. In political philosophy, we find a parallel divide between “isolationists” and “integrationists” respectively.

My point here will be to suggest that the case for integrationism is even stronger that even most of its ardent supporters acknowledge. To see why, consider the first of the inequalities mentioned in the previous paragraph. Studies suggest that, across countries, the top decile of polluters are responsible for about 50% of emissions, while the bottom 50% of polluters are only responsible for about 10% of emissions. Wealth strongly correlates with carbon-intensive activities – think everything from private jets and yachts, via mansion-size homes, to multiple trips by airplane per year or multiple cars in a single household.

How the animal industry undermines consumers’ autonomy

In this post, Rubén Marciel (UPF and UB) and Pablo Magaña (UPF) discuss their article recently published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy on the ethical legitimacy of misleading commercial speech for ‘green’ or ‘ethically produced’ animal products.

Photo by Mae Mu with Unsplash Licence.

What is next for the environmental movement in the UK?

Almost 5 years ago today, on the 31st of October 2018, Extinction Rebellion was publicly launched outside the UK Parliament. Since then, it has been one of the most influential environmental movements in the UK and in other parts of the world, instrumental in changing the public conversation and in leading to the declaration of a climate emergency by the UK parliament in 2019. Using non-violent civil disobedience and mass arrests as the main tactics, in its first few years the movement organised a number of often theatrical actions which included blocking roads and bridges, with activists gluing and locking themselves in public spaces. The question of whether public disruption was indeed the right tactic for Extinction Rebellion, and the environmental movement more broadly, has dominated conversations inside and outside the movement ever since.

The Ethics of Keeping Pets: Why Love is (Still) Not Enough

Concerned about climate change? Worried about environmental degradation? Want to protect local wildlife? Then you should think twice before purchasing a pet.

Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik

Should you be grateful to nature?

In this post, Max Lewis (University of Helsinki) discusses their recent article in Journal of Applied Philosophy about the kinds of gratitude appropriate for our relationship with nature.


If someone provides you with a gift or does you a favor, you should be grateful to them for what they did. This seems undeniable. In fact, failing to be grateful to them would make you morally criticizable. But here’s a puzzle. Nature provides you with an abundance of benefits you did not earn and are not owed. This too seems undeniable. But, if you are like most people, you are not grateful to nature. You are like the boy in the classic children’s book The Giving Tree: always taking from nature, but never giving back. After all, if you were grateful, you would try to pay nature back.

Image by shameersrk from Pixabay

So, are you morally criticizable for your lack of gratitude? Fortunately, I think not. In On Gratitude to Nature, I argue that we do not owe nature any gratitude. Nonetheless, it can be appropriate to be grateful for nature in numerous ways.

Throwing tomato soup at van Gogh

In October, the environmental group Just Stop Oil staged a number of nonviolent direct actions across London. The most visible of these actions was the throwing of tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery. This action has been highly controversial and has attracted a number of criticisms, both from those who are usually critical of this kind of environmental activism as well as from people who tend to be sympathetic with the cause, and in some cases the methods chosen by these groups, including some who are themselves part of the environmental movement. There were two main kinds of criticism made. First, some felt that the painting was the wrong target for such a protest, often reacting angrily out of fear that that painting had been damaged, which was soon revealed not to be the case. Second, many argued that this kind of action is to be criticised for strategic reasons as it does attract attention, but it mainly alienates people from the cause.

Can a ‘war on poaching’ be just?

A photograph of 5 men in combat uniform with automatic rifles crouching in tall grass. A sixth man is dressed more informally and explaining something to one of the men.

Rangers in Malawi’s Liwonde National Park on a training exercise.

The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, and is one of the most lucrative crime networks globally. Illegal hunting can have a devastating effect on the environment and biodiversity, with animals being hunted to (near-)extinction in some areas. In response, several countries have adopted policies which allow the shooting of suspected poachers ‘on sight’.

Unsurprisingly, this is a controversial development. Because of the complex nature of the problem, it’s unclear whether these kind of policies are actually effective, and the scope for mistakes (or even abuse) is wide. On the other hand, defenders argue that so-called ‘militarized conservation’ is necessary to protect severely endangered species, or no different from policing in a dangerous environment [cw: linked article contains a graphic photograph of a murdered rhino].

The more fundamental issue at stake here is whether it can be justified to use lethal force against humans, for the sake of protecting (wild) animals. This is a famously thorny issue. One notable critic explicitly takes aim at the idea that it can be acceptable to trade human lives for animal lives. And many in animal rights circles reject the use of violence – for example, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics will not ‘appoint Fellows who advocate violence’. The idea that killing humans to protect animals can be permissible may also seem quite ludicrous to many in our anthropocentric society. Of course, you might say, aren’t the lives of humans just more important than the lives of animals?

Fiduciary duties of pension fund managers in the anthropocene

The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that hundreds of billions of dollars will be required for climate mitigation and adaptation investments per year to avoid catastrophic global warming. Yet, some of our financial practices are not only slow to adapt to this requirement, but actually represent an obstacle in achieving the goal.

From the Vault: Journal of Applied Philosophy Collaboration

While Justice Everywhere takes a short break over the summer, we recall some of the highlights from our 2021-22 season. This post focuses on our ongoing collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

 

In 2019, Justice Everywhere began a collaboration with the Journal of Applied Philosophy. The journal is a unique forum that publishes philosophical analysis of problems of practical concern, and several of its authors post accessible summaries of their work on Justice Everywhere. These posts draw on diverse theoretical viewpoints and bring them to bear on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from the environment and natural resources to freedom, empathy, and medical ethics.

For a full list of these posts, visit the JOAP page on Justice Everywhere. For a flavour of the range, you might read:

Stay tuned for even more from JOAP authors in our 2022-23 season!

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Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 1st September with fresh weekly posts by our cooperative of regular authors (published on Mondays), in addition to our Journal of Applied Philosophy series (published on Thursdays). If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

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