If we don't reduce our emissions, global warming will kill the human race. Given that, it might seem indulgent to spend time making data centers that host other life, garlanded with trees and flowers . But actually the biodiversity crisis is every bit as crucial as the climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
Happily, it's an issue which can also be addressed somewhat more easily.
Worse than climate change?
The world is currently going through a mass extinction event, as the human race competes with other species for resources, or man-made effects change the environment. For instance, coral reefs are dying because of the increase in ocean temperature, and rainforests, contain vast numbers of species, but they are being cut down at a rapid pace, removing their habitat.
We've heard from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about the dangers of global warming. The science tells us that we have to stop using fossil fuels before the level of carbon in the atmosphere accumulates to a level which makes hunan life on earth impossible. The latest IPCC report found there is only a brief window left to effect this change.
But there's another panel - the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It's the equivalent to the IPCC, reporting on the state of biodiversity. And it is making grim predictions about a crisis which some say is actually worse then global warming.
There are a million species at risk, and many are being lost as I write this. The rate of extinctions is running at hundreds of times faster than the normal background rate.
This issue might seem impossibly distant from data centers. Data center operators can directly help in the fight against climate change, by consuming less fossil energy, or simply building fewer data centers. But what can a data center do about species extinction?
Surprisingly, there are actions you can take, and they don't all involve supporting remote projects.
Data centers occupy actual land, and it is the human race's use and misues of land which is one of the prime causes of species loss. Taking out natural growth from land will have massive impacts on biodiversity, because life exists in ecosystems. Take out plants, and remove habitate for insects, and food for birds and other creatures which feed on them. Keep and nurture plants, and other species will thrive.
Making your data center hospitable to other species is not actually complex. A very good example of what can be done is the DCs for Bees project, run by Host In Ireland. This concentrates on one class of creature: the bees and other insects which pollinate plants- but pollinators are a massively important part of any ecosystem, and it's also important to note that actions to preserve pollinators can be adapted and applied to other species too.
Bees are one of the most important and fascinating kinds of animal in the world - and in the temperate North where most of us live, they are a supremely diverse kind of creature. While hot climates like Africa produce a thrilling variety of large mammals, Britain and North America have vast ranges of bees. A garden can be a veritable safari park of bees - and a shocking number of them are endangered. .
Host in Ireland spoke to Ireland's National Biodiversity Data Centre, and found that Ireland has 98 species of bee - and a third of them are endangered.
Data center operators own substantial amounts of land, and there is usually plenty of space in those plots to encourage insects. The actions can be simple and cost-effective, with some even saving money.
The first thing to do is to preserve what biodiversity there is. If your data center site has hedgerows on it, keep them. And consider leaving uncultivated land, and allowing grass to grow into meadows. Flowering weeds can be great "forage" for pollinators, and support thriving populations.
Speaking in the final session of our Earth Day Special online event Michelle Wallace, who has been spearheading Host in Ireland's DCs for Bees campaign, says supporting biodiversity can start with really simple actions, which cost nothing: ."Start by not mowing your lawns so much!"
Next is to consider any landscaping or land use, and make it bee-friendly. Instead of hedgerows, data centers often have banks, or "berms" to screen them from the road. These are often made from earth and rubble displaced during the building process, and are landscaped.
Bees and other insects need places to nest, and small adjustments to the landscaping can provide these places. Whole classes of bee like to next in by burrowing into earth banks. There's good advice available on how to make your berms bee-friendly by leaving earth surfaces, and planting good forage.
Beyond that, buildings can have "bee hotels" made of bamboo hunt on them, where solitary bees can nest.
And some providers have gone as far as creating green walls, or putting up wires for climbing plants like clematis, whose flowers encourage insects. And roofs can be "greened" providing a habitat for more species.
Good for people too
There's an extra benefit to these actions, and that is the well being of staff. It has been well documented that having natural environments available can help counter stress and promote health.
Having a buzzing hedgerow will help the planet. Sitting by it will make you feel better. And if your workplace has a program to get involved in tending these spaces, you will gain skills and attitudes that spread into the rest of your life.
Wallace says she goes home and encourages her neighbors to mow less, and leave weeds for pollinators.
Alongside efforts to be climate neutral, we need to support biodiversity. It truly is a win-win proposiiton.