Food, water and energy systems are inextricably linked, and as recent events like droughts, oil spills and increasing food prices make clear, the U.S. can no longer view these systems in isolation. A new paper from the GRACE Communications Foundation explains that when the food, water and energy nexus becomes unbalanced, there are clear consequences for public health, our economy and the environment. The paper, Food, Water and Energy: Know the Nexus, describes how and where these systems intersect, how they rely upon each other to function and how they can have a significant impact on each other.
- Nearly half of all water withdrawals—both freshwater and ocean water—in the U.S. are used for cooling at thermoelectric power plants.
- Water-related energy use in California consumes approximately 20 percent of the state’s electricity.
- 25 percent of all freshwater consumed in the U.S. is associated with discarded food; about as much as the volume of Lake Erie.
- In 2010 nearly 40 percent of U.S. corn was converted into ethanol.
“Know the Nexus” provides three case studies that illustrate these interdependencies:
- Food Waste in the U.S.: Discarding food means squandering the water and energy required to grow crops and raise livestock.
- Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: The competing demands for food, water and energy are growing, and the complex mix of agencies and regulations that govern them need to be better coordinated.
- Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant: The current energy system is overly dependent upon water resources and vulnerable to extreme weather shifts and climate change.
The paper, which also touches upon hydraulic fracturing, the farm bill and energy subsidies, urges individuals, businesses and government to take a “nexus approach,” which requires a strong understanding of the relationships among these three systems and how to ensure food, water and energy security for an ever-growing population.
“In recent months, government agencies and major corporations have identified the food, water and energy nexus as a global priority from a planning and management perspective,” says Kyle Rabin, director of the GRACE Water and Energy programs. (Examples of agencies and corporation include the U.S. Energy Information Agency, National Defense Council, Royal Dutch Shell, Masdar and SABMiller.)
“Some experts wisely include climate change in the nexus because of its impact on food, water and energy security. This is exactly the kind of comprehensive thinking needed today, given that billions of people worldwide still lack access to clean drinking water, safe sanitation facilities, food and electricity. As we enhance access to food, water and energy, we must do so in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.”
While the paper provides examples of individuals, businesses and local governments already benefiting from a nexus approach, the U.S. government has largely ignored the nexus, as indicated by legislation and policies that rarely account for interconnections in any combination among food, water or energy. Know the Nexus documents how the nation is not effectively monitoring the condition—or coordinating the management—of food, water and energy systems. As the paper concludes, the U.S. needs policies that address the complexity of the nexus at all levels of government, factoring in unique regional characteristics.
“The food, water and energy nexus is a new way of thinking about the systems we depend on and how we can best manage and plan for a more sustainable future,” says Scott Cullen, executive director of GRACE. “We hope to stimulate a much broader conversation to help knock down the silo approach of isolated resource management because what we do every day affects the nexus and the nexus, in turn, affects our everyday life.”
GRACE’s new website reflects the interconnected nature of food, water and energy systems.
GRACE Communications Foundation builds partnerships and develops innovative media strategies that increase public awareness of the relationships among food, water and energy systems. By mobilizing philanthropic resources and collaborating with like-minded non-profits and academic institutions, we educate consumers and advocate for policies that:
- address the environmental and public health effects of industrial food systems;
- support the development of sustainable food distribution networks;
- result in common sense use of water resources for energy and food production;
- provide clean energy alternatives to conventional power systems; and
- create and promote prevention techniques individuals and communities can use to improve their health.