Focus on a goal – okay

I do focus on a goal – the sustainability of the food-energy-water nexus (1) for supporting life on earth. (2)

That is a short sentence representing some very big topics and issues.

  • The production and distribution of high quality food requires energy and water and fair policies.
  • The production of and distribution of energy also requires water and in the case of biofuel also requires a portion of the crop yield which diverts both water and crops from people who might need it for sustenance.
  • The treatment of freshwater for various uses and treatment of wastewater for reuse or for safe return into surface and ground water sources requires energy and includes food and sewage within the wastewater. Some types of salts, other chemicals, and decomposition bacteria are also used. Fresh water needs to be produced and distributed fairly and wastewater transported back for safe treatment and reuse or return to surface or groundwater supplies.

All three areas of production and distribution use energy and all three are needed for sustaining human life on earth. Protecting the environment while producing the food, energy, and treated water in a sustainable manner helps sustain other types of life throughout the ecosystem, from the tiny microbes at the base of the food chain up to predator species at the top of the food chain. All are important for a sustainable and healthy ecosystem. Food, energy, and water are interconnected within industrial systems and societal needs and within our bodies. Life is complex, the goal is simple – sustain life.

What can I or anyone do in their daily life to help sustain life on Earth?

  • Use less energy intensive crops and buy food in bulk or with more biodegradable or recyclable forms of food packaging. 
  • For example – potatoes and sugar beets are less energy intensive to grow than sunflower seeds or wheat. Chickens and pigs, poultry and pork are less energy intensive meats to raise as farm animal products than to raise cows for beef. See Figures 2.3 and 2.4 (3).
  • Crops also vary in how water intensive they are to grow, wheat and sunflower seeds require more water than beans, peas, barley, millet, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, sugar beets, and melons for example. See Table 5 for seasonal total water needs for a number of crops: (4).

What can local government and industry do? or neighboring countries or states? – work together to devise more efficient use of the available water supplies for energy or food production and plan methods for treating and reusing wastewater from agriculture or urban areas. Urban areas use water and create wastewater within their local area but food and energy is generally produced elsewhere and is transported to the urban location. Currently some progress has been made to treat and recycle wastewater for fertilizer use and to produce some energy (methane is produced during decomposition of food and sewage treatment).

For the sustainable production of crops, within just 40 years, human civilization needs to shift to primarily using recycled fertilizer because there is a dwindling supply of phosphorus available in a form that is bioactive for use as a fertilizer. Recycling wastewater also retains nitrogen and both phosphorus and nitrogen can cause disruption of coastal waters when it enters the water supply within run-off from agricultural or lawn treatments.

Many example case studies from around the world describe ways that communities have worked together to make processes that maximize food and energy production and preserve water by planning the best use of resources for the region. See: Implementation and Case Studies, Nexus – The Water, Energy, and Food Security Platform, (water-energy-food.org).

Some of the ideas I have been working on focus on increasing use of foods or food waste that actually has significant health benefit but which might not seem as appealing as more familiar foods. Reducing food waste directly increases the nutritional value from the energy and water that was used to grow the crop and reduces the amount of food waste that would be entering the waste stream. 

Some foods with significant health benefits that are being under-utilized or currently are being thrown away:

  • Pomegranate peel is being discarded when it could be helping prevent or treat cancer and inflammatory disease and other conditions. (more about pomegranate peel extract)
  • Sassafras leaves were the second largest export from the American colonies in the 1700’s because they have healing benefits and are a natural food thickener and emulsifier when dried and powdered. (more about sassafras leaves/Gumbo File/Choctaw Spice)
  • Fennel seeds are used commonly in India as a crunchy snack or similar to an after dinner mint as a digestive aid/breath freshener/dessert. Fennel seed powder is less crunchy but has the health benefits and could be used in baked goods or as a thickener in sauces or soups. (more about Fennel seeds/Fennel powder in baking).

What can we do to sustain life? My answer: Everything we can think of, soon.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

For more information on water management and food-energy-water nexus implementation strategies check to see if another session becomes available of a United Nations free course on developing local water sources to help meet future water needs, Local Water Solutions for Global Challenges, (GaiaEducation.org).

  1. Leck, Hayley, Conway, Declan, Bradshaw, Michael J. and Rees, Judith. (2015) Tracing the water-energy-food nexus : description, theory and practice. Geography Compass, 9 (8). pp.
    445-460. gec3.12222.   http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/79533/1/WRAP_Leck_et_al-2015-Geography_Compass.pdf
  2. Graham Turner, Cathy Alexander, Limits to Growth was right.New research shows we’re nearing collapse. Sept. 1, 2014, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/02/limits-to-growth-was-right-new-research-shows-were-nearing-collapse
  3. F. Monforti-Ferrario and I. Pinedo Pascua editors & contributors, et al., Energy use in the EU food sector: State of play and opportunities for
    improvement, JRC Science and Policy Report, 2015, http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC96121/ldna27247enn.pdf
  4. C. Brouwer, M. Heibloem, Chapter 2: Crop Water Needs, from Irrigation Water Management: Irrigation Water Needs, Training Manual Number 3, (1986) FAO.org http://www.fao.org/docrep/s2022e/s2022e02.htm

Tips for Changing Habits

Habits are the daily routines that we don’t even think about. It saves energy and stress for the brain to have routine patterns to our lives. The more decisions we have to make about little things, the less energy we may have to focus on work or for important decisions.     

Planning routine actions in advance can help by having already made the decisions about the actions before being in a rush to get to work or school on time. Having an outfit clean and ready the night before an early day; lunch ready to go in the refrigerator; and a quick morning routine for getting dressed, having breakfast, and getting out the door, can leave you relaxed and on time for the early appointment.      

New habits can be easier to stick with when you add the new behavior to a current routine – need to take a medication or vitamin daily?  Try leaving the bottle next to your toothbrush and always take it in the morning after brushing your teeth.  Substituting a new action for a habit that you want to stop may make it easier to change the routine than focusing only on stopping an old habit – want to quit smoking? Substitute going for a very short walk instead.     

Writing down a goal with an action plan and timeline can help and then tallying the goal behavior on a daily checklist for a month or two can help reinforce the new habit long

  • More information about changing old habits or making new ones is available here: The 3 R’s of Habit Change: How to Start New Habits that Really Stick, jamesclear.com.   
  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Climate change, ocean currents, and an ice age

As glaciers melt at the polar regions the increase in warm water that is low in salt is likely to disrupt the currents that circulate ocean waters and which keep the United Kingdom and Europe fairly warm. (Ocean currents & circulation of heat is mentioned in: Anomalous Properties of Water) Historically a large flood is now believed to have preceded a thousand year ice age on the North American continent. Read more: Scientists may have solved a huge riddle in Earth’s climate past. It doesn’t bode well for the future. washingtonpost.com/

In case visualization is helpful, the climate scenario of a change in ocean currents leading to extreme cold in Europe and New York State was made into an action movie: The Day After Tomorrow, 2004.

The daily temperature around the globe is visualized in a color coded map at the site climatereanalyzer.org.

The most critical events that are occurring for our long term well being is the effects of pollution on the atmosphere and the oceans, and other human changes to the environment that lead to desertification or concrete instead of wetlands, both of which also increase flood risk. Climate change will be a variety of changes, erratic differences in extreme temperature and weather changes. Climate: A New Story is a book published this month which looks at the earth as a whole and discusses human effects on the atmosphere, the oceans, wetlands, soil health and other factors that all interact to  create the planet as we have known it. Geologically we have had fairly stable climate for thousands of years but over the longer eons there has been series of ice ages and more warm eras. The planet will go on, the question has more to do with how many other species, including humans, will live to see the next centuries. (Interview with Charles Eisenstein, the author of Climate: A New Story, available in a brief article: kellybroganmd.com.)

This decade is the time humans as a global whole need to seriously reduce our collective use of fossil fuels and other chemicals adding to climate change such as agricultural fertilizers in order to stop the most extreme changes in the atmosphere and ocean from occurring. Many of the chemicals involved will take decades to even centuries to breakdown. (previous post, Climate change is a 100,000 year change.) The changes in how we live and work could create more jobs and be an economic stimulus. More information is available in this article: It’s now or never on climate change, according to a new report. huffingtonpost.com/

Hotter temperatures can make it more difficult to learn or work and can increase risk of ill health in the very young or old and those with chronic illness. Building for a future with more extreme changes in temperature is a task that is already needed in some areas as seen with the heat waves and drought that have occurred this summer and in recent years. (Effects of heat on students.) (Previous post with links about Passive Energy Buildings – architecture for a more sustainable future.)

We all need to be heroes – one hero is not enough for the planet. It needs all of us to pitch in and help, if only in small ways. I care about our future and it starts today – everyday. I write about a variety of topics because life is complex and I care about all of life. We only have one planet and we and it are healthier when there is diversity of plants and animals.  Significant changes in our daily habits could help:

  • use less prepackaged foods, use a refillable water bottle;
  • walk, ride a bicycle, use public transport or carpool;
  • arrange virtual meetings and webinar conferences when possible instead of onsite meetings when people live in many different regions;
  • have virtual stay-cations and learn about interesting foreign areas online while enjoying local recreation and nature getaways;
  • work with local and state government and businesses to develop green parks and walkways that support wildlife and exercise or pedestrian travelers, and plan and fund sustainable architecture and energy resources;
  • take online courses about climate change and sustainability; such as: Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community and Political ActionCoursera.

My concern has nothing to do with me, I am but a drop of life in comparison to all the beautiful species who share this planet.

  • Free course on developing local water sources to help meet future water needs, starts September 24, 2018, Local Water Solutions for Global Challenges, (GaiaEducation.org).

I am serious, as serious as a melting glacier, which I saw in person one summer, when I was young, on a family trip throughout Alaska. Glaciers were really big then – they still are big, but they are smaller now. Our planet is a miracle and we are blessed to have such a paradise in which to live, let’s take care of it for all of us including our great grandchildren and their great grandchildren. Let’s not sacrifice tomorrow’s world for today’s quarterly profit or today’s comfort when we could build toward a more equitable future for all. 

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use.