Huge data centers are using a lot of water to keep warehouses filled with computers cool. This isn’t good for the climate – especially during droughts.
NBC News reported that on May 17, the City Council of Mesa, Arizona, approved the $800 million development of an enormous data center on an arid plot of land in the eastern part of the city.
That data center requires up to 1.25 million gallons of water each day. Mesa is currently experiencing a drought. Data centers like the one in Mesa create relatively few jobs, according to NBC News.
The U.S. also has at least 1,800 “colocation” data centers, warehouses filled with a variety of smaller companies’ server hardware that share the same cooling system, electricity, and security, according to Data Center Map. They are typically smaller than hyper scale data centers but, research has shown, more resource intensive as they maintain a variety of computer systems operating at different levels of efficiency.
The data that NBC News pointed at comes from an environmental research letter posted on IOP Science. The letter is titled: “The environmental footprint of data centers in the United States.” It was published in May of 2021. From the abstract of the letter:
…Our bottom-up approach reveals one-fifth of data center servers direct water footprint comes from moderately to highly stressed watersheds, while nearly half of servers are fully or partially powered by power plants located within water stressed regions. Approximately 0.5% of total US greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to data centers…
The letter offers some suggestions for more environmentally friendly ways data centers can keep cool. Data centers can be located in areas that typically have lower temperatures that would make them easier to cool. Data centers can invest in solar and wind energy (and use that as a coolant instead of water).
The politics of the green movement and the polarity of views have often prevented real debate on climate change from happening. Each side will reinforce their opinion with selective facts from the data and use every opportunity to ridicule their opposition’s theories. A great deal of the climate discussion that has appeared in the media has been coloured by specious facts and bad science.
To counter this and open up the debate, the Royal Society has published a 19 page document (.pdf) called, “Climate Change: A Summary of the Science”, which is effectively a primer on the science behind climate change. It attempts to be a balanced view, with notes on the background science, what is widely agreed, what is still debated, what is not well understood and what developments we can expect.
The Royal Society is an independent “Fellowship of more than 1400 outstanding individuals from all areas of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine, who form a global scientific network of the highest calibre.” Consequently, I think that we can be confident that the working group setup to produce the document has used a scientific approach to assess the climate change data and present the information fairly. In several areas, uncertainty is acknowledged.
However, the concluding remarks are fairly clear with regard to the evidence for climate change.
“There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human
activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last
half century. This warming trend is expected to continue as are changes in precipitation
over the long term in many regions. Further and more rapid increases in sea level are
likely which will have profound implications for coastal communities and ecosystems.”
I would encourage everyone to read this document (there’s only about 11 pages of reading) so that you can understand the science, take part in the debate and help develop the policies in response to climate change.