We are at the forefront, because of course we are.
Readers of the daily email newsletter of one of the country’s leading right-wing, fossil fuel-funded think tanks were treated to a bizarre sight [last] week: an AI-generated image of a dead whale washed ashore on a beach in front of wind turbines, above a fearmongering story about offshore wind. Unfortunately, what is isolated to one newsletter today could spread around the right-wing ecosystem tomorrow.
I cover climate and read breaking news about renewable energy every day; if there were a real photo of a dead whale in front of a wind farm like this, chances are I would have seen it. Still, the image gave me a jump when I opened the email from the Texas Public Policy Foundation. For a moment, I wondered if I’d somehow missed a huge story about a dead humpback that had washed ashore in front of a wind farm.
The story under the image is old hat for this particular newsletter. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, or TPPF, is one of the leaders in the national right-wing push against renewable energy—specifically against offshore wind. Despite its location in Texas, the group has lent its sizable financial muscle to anti-offshore wind efforts on the East Coast, joining a lawsuit against a project filed by local fishermen and creating an entire movie about the evils of wind energy.
The image is at least recognizably an AI generation: there’s the tell-tale uncanny valley nature of the pattern of the debris of the beach, and the blades of the wind turbines are, well, bendy, in a way that you certainly don’t see in real life. The biggest giveaway is the DALL-E generator watermark at the lower right hand corner of the image. When I plugged in various search terms, like “beached dead humpback whale in front of offshore wind turbines” into the DALL-E generator, I got images that looked a lot like what was at the top of my newsletter. (Some of mine were much better, not gonna lie.)
Still, the image is, at first glance, realistic enough to make me do a double-take, and there’s no label on the image marking it as not a real photograph. Readers of the newsletter who aren’t familiar with how AI images look or who are just skimming could certainly be forgiven for thinking that this is real evidence of dead wildlife near a wind farm.
The story shows the original image, and especially with the foreknowledge that it’s sketchy it’s easy to see the fakery in the photo. There’s also a much less janky image of the same scene, created by the story author, which shows how much better and more insidious this sort of thing can and surely will be in the hands of liars and lowlifes. For now, if someone has passed along this bit of bullshit to you, you can show them this story and hope to at least spark a bit of skepticism in them. The next time, when it’s much more convincing? I have no idea. God help us all.