Across the world, public attention has increasingly turned towards two challenges of global proportions: the catastrophic and unequal impacts of climate change and the kinetic development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Driven by an extractivist growth-oriented economic system with roots traceable to the colonial encounter, climate change has left the world teetering on the edge of ‘irreversible’ breakdown, with marginalised communities particularly impacted by its inequitably distributed and existentially destructive effects. At the same time, fuelled by the extraction of vast amounts of raw materials and data, AI technologies have ushered in intensified forms of surveillance, control, and discrimination dominated by a small number of large technology companies, which have accumulated forms of ‘structural power’ that enable them to influence and circumscribe how communities, corporations and States interact and relate with one another.
Despite the intersecting nature of climate change and AI technologies, policymaking has tended to remain remarkably compartmentalised. The EU’s Digital Services package, for example, is notable for neglecting to expressly confront the environmental and sustainability concerns of digital platforms. Where intersections are acknowledged, the relationship is often perceived to be harmonious – with AI invoked as a technological saviour for society’s ecological challenges. While amendments to the EU’s proposed AI Act signal some movement towards confronting the environmental concerns of AI technologies, tensions between the two tend to be defined in narrow technical terms focused on energy costs.