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The Murderous Energy Suck of Universal Paperclips

The fracking to AI pipeline is a crime. And the crime is homicide.


Last week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said she “couldn’t sleep last night because of the enormous energy suck from AI and crypto.”

None of us should be sleeping.

In 2003, Nick Bostrom warned, as a thought experiment, that an artificial intelligence optimized to create paperclips would decide the optimal outcome would be a universe with “a lot of paper clips but no humans.” In 2017, Frank Lantz designed a game where you can play the role of the paperclip maximizer, where you buy out competition, increase human trust by solving male pattern baldness and global warming, then release the hypnodrones and eventually convert all matter in the universe into paperclips.

As Charles Stross and others have pointed out, the AI-paperclip maximizer is already here, in the form of the modern corporation. A corporation, Stross notes, is a “hive organism” which “pursues the three corporate objectives of growth, profitability, and pain avoidance,” with “a sociopathic lack of empathy.”

The few humans who live to serve these all-consuming organisms, such as Silicon Valley neo-fascist Marc Andreesen, glorify these goals as “techno-optimism” or “effective accelerationism.”

Even as most humans recognize the wisdom and necessity of reducing energy consumption and the pollution destroying our planet’s habitability, these corporate servants embedded in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and K Street instead want to feed the borg, with hyper-consumptive computing projects such as cryptocurrency and the machine-learning models currently dubbed “artificial intelligence.”

Bitcoin mining now uses more energy than the entire nation of the Netherlands and as much fresh water as Switzerland. And AI is catching up fast, Elizabeth Kolbert warns. This is great news for NVIDIA stock and bad news for humanity.

It’s also great news for EQT Corporation, which is re-absorbing its Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) spinoff Equitans Midstream Corporation, now that the climate-exploding Appalachian fracked-gas megaproject is near completion, thanks to President Joe Biden’s buckling to Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) demands to mandate the pipeline’s construction. Sociopathic EQT CEO Toby Rice told investors that the AI data centers in Virginia’s “Data Center Alley” are “going to create even more opportunity” to turn MVP’s methane gas into intellectual gray goo.

It’s not like AI is ridding us of the internal combustion engine,” Michael Khoo, the co-author of a new report on the climate threat of AI, told the Guardian. “People will be outraged to see how much more energy is being consumed by AI in the coming years, as well as how it will flood the zone with disinformation about climate change.”

Hey kids, what sound does a wooly horse-sheep make? All you have to do is ask chatgpt/dalle3, and the highest quality educational material can be yours at the click of a button.

The fossil-fuel corporation may be the purest form of the paperclip maximizer, as it works to destroy any limit to the ever-accelerating extraction and consumption of its products, which took hundreds of millions of years to create.1 Once the industry accumulated enough political power to force society to serve it instead of the other way around, democratic institutions, regulatory agencies, environmental laws, scientific integrity, morality, all fall to the fearsome capitalist engine of the petrochemical producer.

Plastics are merely an outcrop of the fossil-fuel industry’s profit machine, but our bodies are now being overwhelmed by a tsunami of toxic microplastics, as new lakes are created to feed the ever-growing plastics industry. Instead of obeying the obviously applicable precautionary principle, Shannon Osaka writes, we’re following the same decades-long trajectory of “proving” this is deadly as we did with cigarettes, only beginning to limit their consumption after 100 million people were killed for private profit. And now, “as in the case of cigarettes, industry voices and doubters may push back, slowing the pace of regulation and allowing plastics to continue to pollute the environment — and enter human bodies — for years and years.”

bluebird on a log

As Aaron Regunberg and David Arkush argue, the wave of civil litigation against the fossil-fuel industry’s decades of deception and corruption should be followed by a similar surge in criminal prosecution. And the number-one crime of Big Oil is homicide.

“The crime that best captures the nature, scale, and gravity of their misconduct in most jurisdictions might be homicide.”

Regunberg and Arkush’s essay is a must read in full, but here’s a taste:

“The reason for pursuing criminal accountability is simple: The climate crisis is an all-hands-on-deck moment if there ever was one, and we need to use every available strategy to curtail greenhouse gas pollution. In today’s thinking, tort law—the law of civil wrongs—seeks economically efficient outcomes: The question is about whether one party should give another some money. Criminal law, by contrast, is concerned with society’s fundamental values—with morality. It answers whether conduct is permissible or forbidden. Where tort law prices misconduct, criminal law prohibits it.”

Also check out Arkush and law professor Donald Braman’s law review paper, “Climate Homicide.”

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1 Though other extractive industries certainly deserve credit as well. For example, on March 1st, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly approved the giant BHP-Rio Tinto copper mine that will destroy the sacred Apache site of Oak Flat in Arizona.

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