Let’s Ask ChatGPT - Climate Change

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ChatGPT is a recently released artificial intelligence chatbot that has soared to international prominence through its ability to conduct conversations and write on various topics using a variety of styles. I asked ChatGPT to respond to two related questions on the issue of global warming.

ChatGPT is an AI model of language trained to produce text. It was trained on materials written by humans found on the Internet. It can be “inaccurate, untruthful, and otherwise misleading at times.” But having trained on the Internet until 2021, it may provide us with prevailing public views.

I asked two questions:

  • How could the US slow down global warming?
  • Why can’t the US reduce global warming?

Here is our dialogue:

ChatGPT: The United States is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the world, making it a major contributor to global warming.                                                               

There are a number of reasons why the United States has not been able to significantly reduce global warming. There are also cultural and societal factors that have contributed to the United States' inability to effectively address global warming.

Me: Be that as it may, the US contributes only about 12% of global CO2 emissions; emission rates of other GHGs have been poorly characterized and are seldom reported.  

ChatGPT: The country has the power to significantly slow down this process by implementing a variety of policies and initiatives. The country is heavily reliant on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, for energy. Burning these fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contribute to global warming.

Me: “Slowing down the process” requires actions at both local and national levels by individuals and institutions that do not always agree. 

ChatGPT: Investments in research and development of new technologies could reduce those footprints.            The United States is home to many large, heavily polluting industries, such as manufacturing and transportation, which also contribute to the country's carbon footprint.

Me: Such technologies are unlikely to be widely adopted unless they are profitable or generously subsidized.

ChatGPT: The government can also set strict efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and vehicles to reduce energy consumption.

There has been a lack of political will to implement policies that would significantly reduce the country's carbon emissions.                                                                                                                    

Me: Implementation of such policies would likely be limited to new construction or purchases, delaying any significant benefits until far into the future. For example, the average age of vehicles on the road in the US is about 12 y: the fleet is destined to remain essentially carbon-powered for many years.

ChatGPT:  One effective method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions is to transition to renewable energy sources. This can be achieved through incentives for individuals and businesses to switch to solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.                                                                                                                            

Me: About 15 acres of dedicated land are required per solar megawatt (MW), roughly a third of an acre for a large well-equipped home. Converting half of the US electric generating capacity of 1.2 million MW to solar power would require about the same land area as Massachusetts and New Jersey combined. New hydroelectric sources are rare and subject to ecological concerns. Solar and wind-powered facilities require standby backup power for dark and calm periods likely to be carbon-powered. Nuclear energy could provide carbon-free base-load power, but siting new facilities is unlikely to overcome local opposition, rational or not.

ChatGPT: Another way to decrease emissions is to implement a carbon pricing system, such as a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. This puts a financial burden on polluters and creates a market-based incentive for companies to reduce their emissions.                                                                                           

The country has a long history of valuing economic growth and individual freedom over environmental protection, which has made it difficult to implement policies that might have negative economic impacts.                                                                                                                                       

Me: Carbon pricing would disproportionately affect low-income individuals, and offsetting compensation would be difficult to implement. Increased transportation costs would ripple throughout the global economy.

ChatGPT: Conserving and protecting forests and other natural carbon sinks is also crucial in the fight against global warming. Deforestation and land use changes contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, so efforts to conserve and reforest these areas can have a major impact.              

Me:  Impacts, yes; major impacts, not so much after trade-offs are considered. For example, substituting wood for concrete construction reduces CO2 from cement production but also reduces the remaining forest land.

ChatGPT: Overall, there are many steps that the United States can take to slow down global warming. By transitioning to renewable energy, implementing carbon pricing, protecting natural carbon sinks, and collaborating with other countries, the country has the power to make a significant difference in the fight against climate change.                                                                                                      

There has been a lack of political will to implement policies that would significantly reduce the country's carbon emissions.                                                                                                                                  

Me: US contributions to global CO2 and climate change are small. Reductions in those contributions are even smaller and unlikely to be noticeable in temperature changes.

Detailed outputs (temperature rise) in addition to inputs (CO2 emissions) to the atmospheric climate system must be considered. One such strategy would be to use climate models to evaluate each country’s contributions to global temperature as increments expressed as micro-degrees (μT).

  • 1 million vehicles produce about 170 μT per year
  • A single coal-fired power plant produces about 230 μT
  • 680 μT could be saved by sequestering a million acres of forest

Ambient CO2 at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii has been increasing by about 30,000 μT per year, the equivalent of about 130 coal-fired power plants. The approximately 10 million new electric vehicles sold globally last year could account for 1700 μT, but only if production of the required electric power were carbon-free. [1]

Climate change outcomes include rising sea levels, which ChatGPT did not mention. Levels for the contiguous US have risen 80 cm since 1992, about 3 cm of which could be attributed to US CO2 emissions since 1980.

ChatGPT: Finally, the United States can lead by example and work with other countries to negotiate and implement international agreements to reduce global emissions. This could involve collaborating on research and technology development, as well as setting and working towards collective emission reduction targets.                                                                                                                             

The United States is one of the few countries that has not ratified the Paris Agreement, an international treaty designed to combat climate change.                                                                               

Me: Climate change is a global problem that requires international solutions. ChatGPT has done a credible job in presenting prevailing views, including the failure to confront the enormous task of preventing or even slowing the current pace of increasing global temperature in detail.


[1] These estimates are based on statistical analyses that are quite precise but not necessarily accurate, in part because other greenhouse gases were not considered.