Insights

Data centers help drive the water scarcity crisis

“I’ve never really understood why big hyper-scaler data centers were installed in high water-stressed regions, like the west part of the US,” environmental researcher Gauthier Roussilhe told me. It makes terrible environmental sense, but clearly it makes good business sense. I was reminded of the business sense that data centers make a... Read More »

Why is water such a low priority for data centers?

According to Eolas magazine, a data center can use anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million liters of water per day, or between 182 million and 1.8 billion liters a year. According to CloudScene, there were about 8,500 large data centers globally in 2022. That’s between 1.5 and 15 trillion liters of water a year, or enough to fill from 600,000... Read More »

Thirsty, secretive data centers

Finding out how much water data centers use is super-super-difficult because, as with everything else, data centers are super-super-secretive. It’s like they’ve got this super-super-big dirty set of secrets they don’t want anyone to know about. How much water do US data centers use? “We don't really know,” Lawrence Berkeley National Labo... Read More »

Chip-making gulps water

The smaller things become, the more resource and energy intensive they are to make. Silicon chips are now at a scale of nanometers. A dust particle is about 1,000 times larger, so we can’t have any dust. To purify and clean silicon chips requires enormous quantities of water. Every single chip requires about 100 liters of ultra-pure wate... Read More »

Water: respect Earth’s materials

Nearly 40% of global croplands have experienced water scarcity, according to a 2022 study published in the AGU journal Earth’s Future. Such scarcity is expected to affect 80% of global croplands during this century, the study states. The UN predicts that there will be a 40% gap between supply and demand for fresh water by 2030, as it als... Read More »

Digital’s role in the water scarcity crisis

If you leave the water running for two minutes while brushing your teeth you can waste up to 18 liters of water. (Approximately 50 liters of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met while keeping public health risks at a low level, according to the UN.) When I searched about this issue on Reddit, a popu... Read More »

Poorest of the poor recycle our e-waste

Huge quantities of e-waste get recycled by the poorest of the poor in countries like Pakistan, India, Ghana or Nigeria. Open pits will likely be used to burn larger quantities, or a blowtorch may be used to separate metals from circuit boards, like the one Akhbar uses. Akhbar is a 21-year-old recycler in Karachi, Pakistan. He has recentl... Read More »

Cheap electronics costs the Earth

Electronic materials have become so cheap, so small and so tightly bound together through planned obsolescence design practices, that their end-of-life value is negligible. The result is that fewer than 20% of digital devices are recycled. Even in the case where devices are recycled, often less than 30% of usable materials are actually r... Read More »

Toxic waste is the business model of Big Tech

Once upon a long time ago—maybe 30-40 years ago—things were made to last. Things were made to repair. You could take apart, recycle and reuse any piece of electronics, component by component. “We had radio valves and transistors, and then integrated circuits,” computer scientist and author, Andy Farnell, explained to me. Andy is a brilli... Read More »