The contributions of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and social media to the climate crisis are often underestimated. To date, much of the focus has been on direct emissions associated with the life cycle of tech products. In this forum article, we argue that this narrow focus misses the adverse and indirect impacts of generative AI and social media on the climate. We outline some of the indirect ways in which generative AI and social media undermine the optimism, focus, creativity, and veracity required to address the climate crisis. Our aim is twofold. First, we seek to balance the tide of optimism about the role of digitalization in addressing the climate crisis by offering a skeptic’s perspective. Second, we outline a new research agenda that moves beyond counting directly attributable carbon emissions and proposes a more comprehensive accounting of the indirect ways in which social media and generative AI adversely impact the sociopolitical conditions required to address the climate crisis.

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Corresponding author: hamish.vanderven@ubc.ca

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