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Insider: From The AUT Climate Change Researchers’ Group

The AUT Climate Change Researchers’ Group (CCRG) connects PhD, masters and honours students researching climate change-related topics from across Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau. They meet monthly, and last year ran an event for Auckland Climate Festival 2022. They share with Debate insights into the philosophy of “no buy” as a movement against fast fashion, as well as how your new favourite tool is harming both your chances of graduating and the environment.

ChatGPT: Heating up your grades, and the planet

By Dominic White and Nina Ives

Have you ever considered using ChatGPT to help you with your studies? Have you been held back by the anticipated guilt from cheating? Well, there are now two more reasons to do your assignments yourself. The rise of AI has been all over the news lately - and by now, we're all familiar with ChatGPT. However, for all its potential impacts on jobs and education, another issue has slipped through the cracks - its environmental impact through emissions and high water use.

All computer programs require power to process requests and store data, and AI chatbots are no exception. This power tends to be provided by coal-fired power plants and other emissions-intensive electricity sources. An article by Kasper Ludvigsen in Towards Data Science used the ML (Machine Learning) CO2 Impact tool to estimate that the carbon footprint from a single user of ChatGPT is 23.04 kg CO2e per day. This is the same carbon footprint as consuming around 9,216 litres of gasoline or else the emissions produced by the average gasoline-powered car for about 100 kilometres. A separate analysis completed by Chris Pointon for Medium projected that the total daily emissions from the chatbot is between 3.82 and 24.86 tonnes of CO2e per day. This is equivalent to the carbon footprint of 605 Americans. Given ChatGPT's broad applicability and its rising number of users, it is reasonable to expect that other chatbots and AI programs will enter the market and add to this carbon footprint.

CO2e, or 'carbon dioxide equivalent' is the unit used to measure the global warming potential of greenhouse gases, by comparing them to carbon dioxide. Note that when you see 'carbon' used to measure emissions, it emcompasses a wide range of greenhouse gases.

While the production of carbon emissions is concerning, it has also been found that AI chatbots require a considerable amount of water to feed the cooling infrastructure attached to their servers. A report by the University of Colorado Riverside and the University of Texas Arlington found that ChatGPT consumes approximately 500ml of water for every conversation containing 20-50 questions. This is especially concerning given the increasing number of droughts around the world and the additional carbon emissions produced from water treatment and pumping.

We asked ChatGPT about its carbon footprint is and it responded rather cryptically:

"ChatGPT itself does not have a direct carbon footprint, the energy use associated with powering its servers and data centres would contribute to their carbon footprint, which would depend on a variety of factors."

While the program may be cagey on its direct carbon footprint, there is a growing amount of research that suggests that AI efficiency gains come at an environmental cost.


To buy or not to buy

By Mitali Nautiyal

Our infatuation with fast fashion means we accumulate so much more, contributing to over-pollution and the wasteful use of natural resources. This is why it’s time to embrace the “no buy” movement. In fact, the internet has recently been flooded with accounts of people who have vowed not to purchase anything brand-new. And it’s time we jumped on board with them. The concept is straightforward: you resolve to use the things you already own rather than buy new things. Some people make pledges for a year, while others only for a few days or weeks; others choose "low buy" choices with stringent spending limits.

Do we really need all these garments? This is exactly what I question in my PhD. The fashion sector is responsible for 10% of the world's carbon emissions and is producing excessive amounts of textile waste. Fast fashion has surged the demand for petrochemical and synthetic materials that are cheap but highly polluting and toxic to the environment. For the stability of our environment, complete abandonment of the fast fashion business model (along with a fall in overproduction and overconsumption) and a corresponding decrease in material intake is essential. As a consumer of fashion, the cheapest way to downsize your carbon footprint is by consuming less.

The solution of countering fast fashion by embracing the “no buy” movement has a strong philosophical foundation. Being content and reducing our consumption will not only assist the environment but also make us feel in control of our lives and appreciate the possessions we have. We frequently get caught up in the madness of needing more, which can result in overconsumption. Shopping with mindfulness, such as making a shopping list, will prevent impulse purchases. Consider buying second-hand items, which will lessen our carbon footprint, and support organisations that are working to improve the world. You can even try your hand at mending and repairing. The addition of decorative hand stitching will breathe new life into your clothing and offer you a sense of artistic fulfilment.

Real meaningful change takes time but must begin somewhere. By pledging “no buy” and embracing the concept of contentment, we have a positive impact both on the environment and our own wellbeing. Of course, there are always two sides to every story. This opinion piece is to encourage consumer waste reduction; however, garment manufacturers should also bear their responsibility.

If you’re keen to join the AUT Climate Change Researchers’ Group, please get in touch with Nina Ives ( to share a bit about yourself and your interest in the group.


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