Water wars: Court halts Google data center in Chile amid climate controversy

A Chilean court granted environmentalists a partial victory by ruling that Google must revise its application for constructing a $200 million data center in Santiago to factor in the impact of climate change.

Although Google initially obtained authorization for its Cerrillos Data Center in 2020, it faced strong opposition from locals concerned about worsening the Chilean drought through the facility’s use of residents’ water supplies for server cooling. Following a previous legal battle, Google disclosed that the data center would consume 7.6 million liters (2 million gallons) of potable water daily. Subsequently, the tech giant committed to transitioning to an air cooling system.

However, the court ultimately deemed the initial environmental assessment sufficient, despite Google’s alterations.

According to 2022 figures cited by the Financial Times, Google’s water usage rose by 22% over a two-year period, with Microsoft experiencing a 34% increase.

Environmental groups have long highlighted “serious shortcomings” in Chile’s environmental regulation, particularly regarding projects like the Cerrillo data center, as reported by CIPER, a Chilean investigative news agency. Of particular concern are endeavors exploiting the resources of Indigenous people, primarily linked to mining and hydroelectricity projects, as indicated by a 2023 study. A 2021 study by El Desconcierto revealed that over 34% of environmental complaints in Chile in the past decade targeted projects impacting Indigenous territories.

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