By Andrew Kear, PhD
Establishing a sustainable balance between energy and water is fundamental to the survival of humanity. This energy-water crisis relates to nearly all of the present and future environmental problems confronting our planet – from climate change to fossil fuel dependence, from over-population to agricultural practices. The complex interrelationships and resulting problems defy simple solutions.
Arguably, technology is no panacea and historically, it has created new and unforeseen problems. For example, the present global unconventional natural gas boom spurred by technological innovations such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, has opened vast non-renewable energy supplies at the expense of water quality, quantity, and availability. Achieving sustainable (i.e. renewable) global energy solutions will not eliminate water insecurity, especially in water-poor nations, but it will remove one unnecessary stressor to our precious water resources.
At what level of action and in what manner should we address the energy-water crisis? While water and energy policy are largely regarded as separate arenas, specifically in the U.S. context, they should be treated holistically within the same political debate. Thus, redefining water and energy as inseparable is critical. From the grassroots to the global political sphere, immediate problem redefinition and political action are prerequisites to stalling the energy-water crisis. In the affluent world, individuals can eat less meat, pressure politicians, drive less, buy local food, direct consumerism to greener products, and form broad coalitions promoting social/political change. Individual lifestyle changes and political action in the global north are insufficient and political institutional action at the municipal, state, regional, nation-state, and international level must follow.
Governmental policy solutions range from the one-size-fits-all, prescriptive command-and-control style regulations to market-based initiatives (MBIs) to more sustainable options. For example, renewable portfolio standard policies (RPSs) mandate that major energy providers produce a certain percentage of their energy from renewable supplies such as wind and solar by a certain date. Not only will these state and national policies advance water conserving energy sources, it will create a business opportunity where technological advancements and economies of scale can reduce prices. This, in turn, will enable the developed world to transfer this technology to the developing world, moving them up the energy ladder to renewables and effectively skipping the fossil fuel addiction completely.
What can individuals, businesses, the collective, and governments do to achieve energy sustainability and increase water security? Enact RPSs, promote sustainable practices, transfer renewable energy technology to the global south, fundamentally redefine how energy relates to water, and replace the fossil fuel paradigm with a renewable, water-conserving paradigm. This requires immediate action from the individual to the global level and with present policies, our energy and water are running out.