Saturday, December 31, 2016

FEW NEXUS Case Study: Standing for Sustainability at Standing Rock.

FEW NEXUS Case Study:  Standing for Sustainability at Standing Rock.

The ongoing conflict at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where first nations tribes have been making a stand against the oil companies trying to run a pipeline through their land, is an example of a key opportunity for the FEW Nexus to show its power.

 The conflict itself is a Nexus Issue: The Lakota Sioux tribe is worried, quite justifiably, that a leak in the pipeline, which is intended to supply energy to Euro-American businesses, will contaminate their water supply. In so doing it will also contaminate much of their food supply.  This one energy issue, given the inevitability of leaks, would force them to depend on purchased water and purchased food and increase their dependency on the white businesses, further eroding whatever traditions and autonomy they have left.  Energy affecting water and food.  Can they ever be considered in isolation?

Nexus thinking showed us the problems – nobody today can look at a proposed energy project without considering the effects on food and water --  and Nexus thinking  can also reveal the solutions.

 At Standing Rock , the three camps of Water Protectors, Oceti Sakowin on the front lines, Rosebud and Sacred Stone, have become the temporary home for over 7,000 people from around the world who stand in solidarity with Native Americans defending all our access to clean energy, food and water. To keep the water protectors and their allies alive, particularly through the harsh winter, requires energy, food and water, and plenty of it.

Let’s start with energy.  At standing Rock there is no electricity.  So for heat and light the first things the protestors had to turn to was the oldest form of stored energy, used by the indigenous people here for thousands of years – firewood.

The dim glow of a campfire, its flickering embers illuminating the creased faces of the elders as they chant prayers and beat on drums, is a familiar sight each evening at the camp.  Figures huddled around chimneys from wood burning stoves within teepees harken back to a time here centuries ago before anybody knew petroleum existed. 

But people switched to oil from firewood for what they thought were good reasons that are as true today as they were a hundred years ago. Wood fires are poor sources of illumination, they create toxic noxious smoke and they so rapidly consume forest resources that with the number of people at the camp today, they can no longer be called renewable or sustainable. In fact there is already a small environmental outcry  (admittedly manipulated and promulgated by the pipeline profiteers) over the sheer amount of wood being consumed in this anti-oil environmental justice campaign.

So what to do?

Propane tanks were brought in, but while convenient for heating and cooling and running generators, they weaken the argument of the protestors because they are a product of the very industry the protestors are fighting against. In addition, the sherrif’s office ordered Ace Hardware outlets near the camp  to cease selling propane to the protestors to try and freeze them out.  So the dependency they create on outsiders who are hostile to the initiative makes the campaign vulnerable to sabotage. Faced with these challenges, an international effort began to provide renewable energy. Even the actor Mark Ruffalo, famous for his role as the Incredible Hulk in the Avengers, got involved delivering large solar electric arrays to the camp.

There are wind generators of various sizes and configurations, and even bicycle generators.  These provide fairly reliable electricity for lighting and power tools.

 I was able to make myself useful at Sacred Stone camp over Thanksgiving putting a 550 Watt photovoltaic array into the new emergency medical tent while my friend Chris Lindstrom gave electricity to the IBC compost toilet he built, and there was nowhere at the camps where one couldn’t charge laptops,  phones and cameras.   But using electricity to create heat is well known to be the least efficient use of energy and while it could be used in an emergency at the camp there was no economic incentive to devote those resources to heating.    There is a main geodesic dome gathering space where the Oceti Sakown camp holds their orientations and  decolonization meetings and hosts guest speakers like John Bowlingbough, the whistle blower from the oil spill cleanup crew who showed us his documentary expose on the lies the oil industry spreads about safety. This public space, which also serves as sleeping bag sleeping quarters for new arrivals like me, has a wood burning stove and is also heated by electric ceiling heat lamps that are variably powered by solar electricity, wind and a gasoline generator.

And every day more people arrive with the expertise and the vision to use Nexus thinking to solve all these problems in tandem.

The incredible thing about the Standing Rock protest camps is that the Native Americans who have called themselves the “Water Protectors” are also calling the rest of the world to join them in being Food and Energy protectors.  They see their cause, fighting against the “Black Snake” – a euphemism for the deadly and deceitful oil pipeline – as a rallying point around which humanity can come together and finally create a single location where the existential problems of survival are solved sustainably.  

It is a difficult road however, especially given that North and South Dakota’s food, energy and water problems are made far far worse by the yearly winter storms and radically reduced sunlight which render cold season  agriculture and energy production problematic and freeze water into an all but useless solid.

Still, in the hands of a people who survived in this frigid landscape for millennia before fossil fuels and plastics and engines and generators were discovered,  working with all of us around the world who have developed improved independence technologies, the FEW Nexus Eutopia seems more than ever achievable.

To give you some perspective, I recently received this announcement from my inventor friend Sam Smith, who is living in a tent at Standing Rock working on these technologies . Sam writes,

“With the eyes of the world on Standing Rock as a microcosm for indigenous rights and clean energy activism in general, we believe that our efforts here can have more of an impact then at other times and places. We believe that if we can help to demonstrate that clean energy systems are possible in the face of such an extreme environment during such necessary times, that they are possible to implement elsewhere, as well as directly helping the Standing Rock community who can in turn use them to teach other communities what really works.”

Sam noted that most of the many donations coming into the camp from around the world were creating a surplus of cardboard box wastes.  He writes,

“We figured out we were able to shred cardboard into a pulp and then press it into fire logs that could be burned in the camps wood stoves. We also were able to help by jumping cars, fixing stuff, and getting LED light strands with battery packs into several community spaces that needed lighting. In the first weekend we also worked on being able to do some guerrilla light projection, using an overhead projector that Sam had brought to project the words “NoDAPL” onto the snow in glowing 8' letters..

"On Monday night there was a high powered blizzard that managed to shake up our infrastructure quite a bit. After some damage control at 3am that night we were able to rebuild and recreate a working space over the next few days. Over the time we were there the temperature steadily dropped and we adapted accordingly with a lot of flexibility, a bit of luck, and a strong ability to fix things and adapt between the two of us. It was a harsh environment but we found that the harder we were pushed the more ready we were to rise to the next challenge.

Standing Rock in blizzard. Photo: Sam Smith

"We continued making friends and refining the process of making fire pucks for whole trip (which we affectionately called “fucks”. We wanted to have lots of fucks to give.) We ran into several difficulties, including the incredibly arduous task of finding and creating enough liquid water to mix with the cardboard shreds. This is something we can solve for on subsequent trips.

Cardboard pellets. Photo: Same Smith

Sam Smith's hand-made shredder. Photo: Sam Smith

Sam Smith's hand-made shredder. Photo: Sam Smith

Sam Smith's hand-made shredder. Photo: Sam Smith

Grinder. Photo: Sam Smith

"Sam and River got several projects going before we had to head home, including figuring out how to charge phones from wood stoves and make hot water consistently, which is a big damn deal in that environment. With the right parts and enough money we could make these and other related projects genuinely happen on the ground which would be a big deal to the people there.
The ultimate goal is to get Sacred Stone camp completely off of fossil fuels, notably gasoline and propane, as quickly as possible. This is an extremely attainable goal, and also an extremely challenging one. In such  a severe environment one comes to respect and appreciate the often life-saving availability and energy-density of such fuels. Getting off them entirely is a considerable design challenge.

"Here’s the current energy situation: The most common energy needs are electricity (mostly for lighting and phone-charging), hot water, and space heating. Electrical needs are being met with solar panels (wind turbines are in the works as we speak) and gas-powered portable generators. Hot water needs are being generally under-met in many parts of the camp, with clean liquid water being constantly scarce, water for dishwashing coming from melting snow, and hot showers basically nonexistent. Space heating is coming almost entirely from wood burning stoves.

"What we are working towards is a decentralized, easy-to-replicate waste-to-energy system that can be easily implemented in all of the community spaces and provide consistent and abundant electricity, hot water, and space heating, without using any fossil fuels. This means deriving electricity from wood and trash. There are many ways to do this, but the current plan involves shredding all burnable waste, including food waste, and compressing them into fuel bricks. These bricks must then be dried, but this can be done in a way that produces steam and distills out clean water while heating interior spaces.

Thermoelectric generator. Photo courtesy of Sam Smith.

Thermoelectric generator. Photo courtesy of Sam Smith.

"We are also exploring the use of Thermoelectric Generators, which are basically like solar panels for heat. TEGs can meet the electrical demand of lights and phones and be powered by ANY heat differential, which means wood stoves, or even wood stoves powered by fuel pucks, can produce electricity. This process also produces hot water as by-product. So the goal is to produce an integrated, open-source woodstove/dryer/distiller/water heater/electrical generator capable of meeting all needs for water heating, water filtration, space heating, lights, and power, all at once. We know this sounds fake; we assure you it’s not. The solutions and technology are all ready to go, it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.

"Hopefully it doesn't come as a surprise but this fight against the building of the pipeline is still very much happening and still very much in need of solidarity and all forms of support. DAPL is not going to stop, they will pay a fine and break the law and keep building. The entire time we were there 30 or so football stadium lights blasted our light space from the work site and blocked our view of most of the stars. Helicopters circled often and disruptively. Everyone prayed peacefully before every meal and all day long. The sacred fire at Sacred Stone was an unflagging priority. This fight is hard, we know it is sometimes confusing, we know it is often overwhelming. This is also unquestionably a cause that deserves everything we've got.

"While we were there we saw such hope, and such growth, and such community. In the face of an overwhelming world we saw people work themselves raw every day to make a better one. Sacred stone is laser focused on answering the questions of how to generate solutions to our dependency on unsustainable energy.

"We saw port-o-potties get locked because they were unsustainable and problematic and composting toilets go up within a day. Lemme tell ya, that's amazing.”

Sam’s amazement isn’t just tied to the rapidity with which the more sustainable solutions can be implemented.  It is also about how much better things like composting toilets are from a Nexus perspective.  A “port-o-pottie” merely pretends to be a solution for dealing with human waste, but merely displaces the problem “downstream”, contaminating land and  water through the dumping of its chemical laden and now useless fecal material and, if incinerated, adding to the energy and air pollution problem.  A composting toilet by contrast, not only  renders fecal material harmless but actually builds life giving soil for new food production , keeps contamination away from water and air, and, though still unrecognized at the camp on a large scale, generates energy, producing enough heat through aerobic digestion that it can save lives in the coldest winters.  I have been witness to how the  Sherpas in Nepal’s Himalayas actually use composting toilets built next to their houses to add heat to the house.  I have used compost toilets in Portugal to stay warm on frigid nights.  So this one simple  technology turns out to be in itself a nexus solution of considerable power.

Copper coil heat exchanger on wood stove at Standing Rock. Photo courtesy of Sam Smith.

Combined with well insulated biodigesters, heated by solar hot water and the waste heat from the wood burning stoves, transforming all the food waste and some of the fecal material  into methane cooking fuel  and fertilizer, the waste turns out to be a solution instead of a problem.

Once people at the camps get their cultural taboos in order, abandon fecophobia and get their minds around using compost toilets and food-waste biodigesters  to help keep water liquid and help with space heating, it is my contention that a significant part of the winter problem facing the camp will feel solvable… the more people there are, the more heat will be generated.

And one of the great things about the camp is that as the fight goes on and the need to keep a permanent presence gets recognized, this remote area can serve as an educational hub to energize others.

Sam writes enthusiastically about  something I also observed with great hopefulness when I was at Standing Rock.

He writes,
“We saw a schoolhouse get built that is a true inspiration for the children who live on the land. We saw an unflagging intensity to kill the black snake with green energy, perseverance, extreme cleverness, community and prayer. We want to go back and help. We need to. We want to bring your intention and energy and support with us.”

The idea that there might finally be a schoolhouse and curriculum somewhere in the world dedicated to ending the rule of the black snake’s petro-dominance is lifting the hopes not just of the international allies flocking to the Indian reservation in  Dakota but of everybody connected to it through today’s light-speed spirit lifting social media.  Facebook, for example, is turning into a virtual classroom for the Food-Energy-Water Nexus where problem solvers and water protectors are connecting to connect all the dots, collect all the parts, learn all the systems and synergies and how to integrate them.

Sam writes to his facebook supporters,

“The items we need to be independent are:
-Solar Powered Fairy Lights and string lights
-Flexible Solar Panels (100, 120 or 150W) ($150-$250, easy to set up on tents)
-12V 100Ah AGM Lead Acid Batteries (Work with and expand our existing power systems)
-Plug-in Power Tools (battery powered ones don't work in the cold)
-Thermo-Electric Generator modules (DC electricity from ANY heat differential, also produce hot water)
-Portable Tables and Shelves (the nice plastic folding ones)
-Solar Powered Phone Battery Packs and/or nicer rechargeable battery packs
-7-20 ton Shop Press (3 needed to make hella fucks, we've got 1)
-Engine Block Heater (for when the engine block in the van freezes)
-20lb Propane Tanks (bonus if they have propane! We need to run heaters to be able to work until we can get alternative energy systems in place.)
-Large propane heaters (nice ones)
We love you all, we love Standing Rock, We are not giving up. We are dedicated and capable and determined.”

And why would you give up when an application of Nexus principles and the right technologies actually proves its utility by saving your life?  Those of us who live in the nexus are dedicated , capable and determined because we have lived the benefits, getting through earthquakes and hurricanes and economic collapses and wars and blackouts and other hard times precisely because these things DO work. And once you have seen them and felt them work, you can't give up.

The list Sam came up with is interesting because it is a good example of the prioritization that occurs when theory and practice collide and cohere into PRAXIS IN THE NEXUS, when practitioners on the ground start applying what they have learned and live what works and what doesn’t and where and why.  It is one thing to dream about some solar powered organically fed clean water eutopia free of fossil fuels and pollution and chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  It is another to be facing a harsh winter on a small piece of property surrounded by militarized police and barbed wire fences cut off from easy access to the outside world constrained by  limited funds and time.  Compromises have to be made and planning for success must embrace immediate realities and long-term ideals.

If we can succeed at Standing Rock we will prove that Nexus thinking really is the most powerful multi-tool in our sustainability tool-kit. Standing Rock makes a stand that is as timeless at it is urgent.  The first nations people stand as a symbol of independence and sustainability that was almost obliterated by the incessant march of greed and profit seeking capitalism driven by Europeans with  a world view based on resource extraction and plundering and expansionism because Imperialist Europe  lacked an understanding of or appreciation for  interconnections and the non-zero sum nature of resource cycles. Finally many of the descendants of the colonialist enterprise have come to understand nexus thinking and are willing to apply it. We are all just waiting for the right when and where.

It is my belief that when we heal this “original sin” of the American genocide, a time in history when an entire continent's people and their lifestyles were exterminated and slavery and fossil fuel power were employed to create the world’s leading economic and military and cultural power, the example will have the power to penetrate the consciousness of all the descendants of nations and cultures who profited from the take over of the Americas but who are now all suffering the same fate of health problems and ecosystem collapse.

Just as non-Nexus thinking and the absurd 19th and 20th century  logics of capitalist commercialization and compartmentalization and reductionism spread unsustainable practices all over the planet, a new wave of nexus thinking now needs to spread from the United States back out to the world.   America is arguably where the stone was thrown into the world development pond, sending out not just  ripples but a tidal wave of destruction as culture after culture adopted our destructive practices. This sacred stone of sustainability being dropped into the pool of history at Standing Rock could be the exactly what is needed to undo that damage.

It is for this reason that I conceive of the water war being waged at Standing Rock as the nexus for all issues concerning  sustainability – not just water, energy, food and waste, but culture as well.
Says, “This is the first time that leaders from across the Sioux Nation—representing all Sioux groups—have come together since 1876… more than 200 tribal nations have assembled peacefully there to resist the pipeline, travelling from as far as Hawaii, Canada and Latin America…As Noam Chomsky recently observed, “all over the world the leading forces in trying to prevent a race to [environmental] disaster are the indigenous communities.”

When indigenous communities all around the world choose a time space cultural and environmental  nexus like this, and join together with the descendants of their oppressors in applying new nexus understandings, for the first time in history, the race can finally be over. As the Beatles sang,  it is time to “Come Together, right now”… over this:  making a stand for food, energy and water sustainability at Standing Rock.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The FEW Nexus Episode 2

Hello and welcome to Module 2: Key concepts in the quest for equitable applications of the Food energy and Water Nexus

Two key concepts in the quest for  sustainable development frame and affect the FEW NEXUS.  That is to say that the nexus, if thought of as a web of interactions in multidimensional space, must operate within the limitations set by these two concepts. Many of you will have studied them in previous courses; as a Nexus practitioner you need to see them as bounding bodies and figure out policies and maneuvers that avoid spillage beyond these “boundaries to sustainability”.
The first is the famous “tragedy of the commons”, brought to world attention by Garrette Hardin in 1968 in a famous paper that used the metaphor of competing cow farmers overgrazing a constrained piece of common land because there was no rational incentive to restricting grazing since common ownership  in a shared-resource system meant  each farmer would benefit from putting just one more cow on the land without some regulation telling him not to do so.  The assumption was that on public land Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ would not operate well with each person pursuing their own self interest.
Game theory was invoked to defend the proposition,  showing that due to information assymetries, each player or actor stood to benefit more in the short term from getting all they could before  the system collapsed because each found himself in a kind of “prisoners dilemma” with no way of knowing what the other party was going to do.  The logic of the tragedy of the commons seemed unassailable to some, so that on the so-called left there were calls for more state control of resources, with more regulation and enforcement, while on the so-called right there were calls for privatization of all possible resources with, of course, state enforced property rights.
The flaw in the reasoning, as pointed out in particular by leaders of indigenous groups as well as the anthropologists studying them, is that the prisoner is prevented from communicating while outside  of a prison there is the possibility of  open communication, reinforced by cultural mechanisms, often some moral imperatives, that make it possible to manage resources collectively.  Ironically, even Adam Smith was one of the largest proponents of this view, dedicating his life to the writing of his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, of which the Wealth of Nations was a small part.  Recent studies of the tragedy of the commons using simulations played by college students on computers showed that when everybody is aware of the stakes and agrees the goal is to avoid unsustainable outcomes and has a chance to communicate freely with the group what they need, what they are doing, and what the local effects are, the aggregate information begins to act like Smith’s invisible hand. Good information and an awareness of the interlinkages seems to be the key.
It could be argued that The Food Energy Water NEXUS is a conceptual tool that acts ultimately as a cultural mindset operating quite like Smith’s theory of moral sentiments or like the taboos put in place by traditional societies.  By insisting on an awareness of the interdependencies and interconnections of a sectors and all players in a landscape, and providing the moral suasion of “sustainability and justice is our endgame”  the Nexus enlarges and creates communication channels that show what affect each player’s move will have on all the other players.  The Nexus seeks to highlight and eliminate information assymetries and by so doing, avoid the tragedy of the commons without forcing a move toward either privatization or government control. Instead it provides a more nuanced understanding of each possible move in its three dimensions, allowing for more subtle and complex arrangements.
In todays NEXUS world, the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals act as the cultural boundary and provider of moral suasion.  They define the rules of the game, and the notion of what is taboo and what is expected of the players in the game.
A brief review of the SDGs shows that food, energy and water, and the impacts of any tragedy in providing them for our common future (to use the title of Barry Commoner’s seminal book on the subject which helps frame the moral imperative) stitch together all of the goals set before humanity this century.

Goal 1   End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
That seems ambitious, but, if we understand the chief forms of poverty resulting from an inability to obtain the  necessary amounts of clean and healthy food, energy and water for the reproduction of the household, and we consider that the minimum amounts of  food and water required for a dignified life can theoretically be obtained through a closed recycling loop and powered through efficient used renewable energy systems, the end of these forms of  poverty is certainly conceivable. Opportunity poverty is another issue, but one that addressing the fundamental forms can address.
Goal 2   End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
This goal is well within the scope of the Nexus.
Goal 3   Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
In so far as healthy food and clean water promotes healthy lives, and clean renewable energy eliminates the grave threats of air and water pollution, this one is also within our domain, leaving medical knowledge and treatment as an equity issue.
Goal 4   Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
This goal is more political in nature, but Yale Political Economist James C. Scott, in his book “Seeing Like a State, How Schemes to Improve the Human Condition have Failed” has argued that agricultural systems based on monocropping and survival schemes that silo knowledge are responsible for “dummification”. The argument is that self-sufficient populations engaged in a permacultural polycropping landscape and in hunting and gathering learned to read the landscape as a complex environment and were already tuned to Nexus style thinking because their lives depended on an understanding of complex interrelationships in ecological systems.  With extreme division of labor and what Marx called the “alienation of labor” came educational systems that rewarded specialization at the expense of holistic understanding.  A quality lifelong education can start with learning how to apply the Nexus to all areas.
Goal 5   Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
It can be argued that given that provision and maintenance and preparation of food and water have been traditionally female domains, along with fetching and utilizing domestic energy sources, the FEW Nexus can be a tool of empowerment for women.
Goal 6   Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
This goal is addressed specifically by the FEW nexus.
Goal 7   Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
Again, this is a goal implicit in the Nexus.
Goal 8   Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
The Nexus reveals opportunities to create sustainable economic growth and suggests different jobs, many of them new, that could provide productive employment. Whether the insights it offers leads to greater inclusion is, of course, a political decision.
Goal 9   Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
Because the FEW Nexus is tied to Industrial Ecology and the creation of overlapping, interconnected Cradle To Cradle infrastructure, it holds great promise for achieving this goal.
Goal 10  Reduce inequality within and among countries.
One of the premises of the Nexus is that through its lens we will be able to ensure provision of adequate nutrition and useful energy and water which, if achieved will help reduce inequalities, at least on the existential level.  Unequal access to luxury goods or non-essential good may remain, but their very definition contains the implicit assumptions about inequality as their value and the cost of obtaining them is defined culturally rather than biologically.
Goal 11  Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
The FEW NEXUS helps us achieve this goal by helping to ensure food, energy and water SECURITY.  The assumption is that with their basic needs met, humans are more likely to engage in peaceful trade since they can’t be threatened with starvation or water or energy shortage.
Goal 12  Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
This is firmly within the purview of the food energy and water nexus, especially when coupled with an understanding of how industrial ecology systems can  mimic natural ecosystems and produce zero waste.
Goal 13  Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
It is assumed that when we shift to closed loop systems of production and consumption and grow, transport, process, consume and dispose of food and organic materials in a sustainable way, most of the drivers of climate change will be addressed and most of the impacts mitigated. It is agreed that industrial mono-cropping agriculture is the largest user of fossil fuels and the largest cause of deforestation, soil erosion and land degradation and pesticide and fertilizer runoff, fires and flooding and greenhouse gasses, water use and water contamination. So the FEW Nexus has direct relevance to this goal.
Goal 14  Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
This is arguably a go in streamline with the FEW Nexus.
Goal 15  Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
As explained above, this is within the crosshairs of the Nexus.
Goal 16  Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
With the food, energy and water nexus used to solve the three pillars of survival,  only the provision of adequate shelter becomes the problematic that must be dealt with by inclusive institutions. Land speculation and land ownership and redistribution and property values retain their potential for conflict, as they have for millennia.  But finding ways through the nexus to make it so that large land holdings and the fight for “40 acres and a mule” become less urgent.  Vertical farming through hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics is allowing creative food production in urban and suburban built environments as well as rural landscapes, at a time when distributed energy systems like solar and wind and biogas power are emerging to end the monopoly of centralized power production enabling a more inclusive society to emerge.
Goal 17  Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

One of the key strengths of the Nexus philosophy is that it implies partnerships since specialists in each domain need to communicate and create multidisciplinary interventions.  So by its very essence, FEW Nexus thinking strengthens the means of implementation.

Each of these goals creates lattices in our collective  cultural framework that provide connection points holding the moral fabric of sustainable development together.  By agreeing that these goals are our drivers, and that we hold them in common purpose, the implementation of the FEW Nexus as a way to reach them helps prevent any one actor working on one goal from disrupting or impeding the goals of the others.  When the use of  any individual shared resource, viewed as a contested slice of a limited pie,  has the potential to cause conflict, a Nexus approach reveals ways to maximize the utility and mutual benefits of other resources from other pies that impact the resource in question and helps us to find win-win-win strategies that encourage more rational use and planning and, by eliminating dead waste losses and channeling resources back into the loop,  may actually “grow the pie”. This is the promise of the plenitude approach of industrial ecology that proper application of  the nexus implies.
In this way we avoid the tragedy of the commons.
Besides the tragedy of the commons, which requires vigilance as well as a moral imperative supported by good communication and understanding of the linkages, sustainability and justice demand we operate within another constraint to the “limits of growth”.  These limits are embodied in the concept of the “ecological footprint.”

Ecological footprint analysis emerged in 1992,   developed at the University of British Columbia by Dr. William Rees and Dr. MathisWackernagel. As defined by the Global Living Project  “ It estimates how much of Earth's productive land and sea is used to produce the food, materials and energy that we consume and to assimilate our wastes.”  20 years earlier, the Club of Rome, lead by Donnella Meadows, published a landmark study called “the Limits to Growth”. The Wikipedia entry shows how similar their approach was to what we now call the Nexus:
“Limits to Growth was a book about the computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies...  The book used the World3 model to simulate[3][4] the consequence of interactions between the Earth's and human systems… The original version presented a model based on five variables: world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resources depletion. These variables are considered to grow exponentially, while the ability of technology to increase resources availability is only linear.[5] The authors intended to explore the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among the five variables under three scenarios. They noted that their projections for the values of the variables in each scenario were predictions "only in the most limited sense of the word," and were only indications of the system's behavioral tendencies.[6] Two of the scenarios saw "overshoot and collapse" of the global system by the mid to latter part of the 21st century, while a third scenario resulted in a "stabilized world."[

The Nexus approach helps us to create  those sustainability feedback patterns they talked about  to avoid overshoot and collapse, and the Ecological Footprint gives us an idea of when we approach the edges of overshoot so that we don’t blunder into collapse.

The ecological footprint is  a metaphor based on a very visual descriptor of the consequences of human activity. It visualizes  a giant stepping on the landscape and crushing it, or, better put, it shows us each that we can be   a single normal sized person sitting at home thinking we aren’t hurting anybody, but that we have an absolutely massive giant foot as our avatar in the real world,  blindly crushing and obliterating landscapes however unintentionally or inadvertently .
When you go online and use one of the many ecological footprint calculators you learn that your consumption patterns, if engaged in by all of the people on the planet, would require 4 or 5 planets to sustain.  The internet has sites now where you play the footprint calculator game to try and see how small you can make your footprint, with the ultimate goal of proving that you can lead a lifestyle whose consumption patterns, if applied to everyone now living, would only require a single planet. And that makes sense because that is all we have.
The calculators, obviously as flawed as all models of reality and the complex feedbacks loops are, of course use a nexus approach.  As we talked about in the first module, they show how movement along one axis of consumption or production affects the other axes.  They show how an increase in one parameter, say water use, can have a negative impact on another, say food production.  As the algorithms behind them get more and more sophisticated, we get closer and closer to the kind of immediate feedback loops which can help us plan for a just and sustainable outcome.
Certainly in the age of ever more refined computer simulations of possible outcomes with better world systems theories informing their logic, we can make better predictions of what will happen when we try out a new technology or policy.
But because models are always inadequate, and, as James Scott reminds us, “the map is not the territory”, we need very careful ground trothing, and we have to make sure that in our enthusiasm for technological and engineering fixes that seem to pan out when simulated by a computer, we don’t miss the political and human factors that make things in the real world work or fall apart.  This is the role of political ecology, the field of study that explicitly embraces the human factor.
One of the scientific papers now addressing an important area of this that has often been left out, is “Sustainable development and the water–energy–food nexus: A perspective on livelihoods” by Biggs et. al, from the University of Southhampton in England.
Their abstract says,
“The water–energy–food nexus is being promoted as a conceptual tool for achieving sustainable development. Frameworks for implementing nexus thinking, however, have failed to explicitly or adequately incorporate sustainable livelihoods perspectives. This is counterintuitive given that livelihoods are key to achieving sustainable development. In this paper we present a critical review of nexus approaches and identify potential linkages with sustainable livelihoods theory and practice, to deepen our understanding of the interrelated dynamics between human populations and the natural environment. Building upon this review, we explore the concept of ‘environmental livelihood security’ – which encompasses a balance between natural resource supply and human demand on the environment to promote sustainability – and develop an integrated nexus-livelihoods framework for examining the environmental livelihood security of a system. The outcome is an integrated framework with the capacity to measure and monitor environmental livelihood security of whole systems by accounting for the water, energy and food requisites for livelihoods at multiple spatial scales and institutional levels. We anticipate this holistic approach will not only provide a significant contribution to achieving national and regional sustainable development targets, but will also be effective for promoting equity amongst individuals and communities in local and global development agendas.”
In the body of the paper they make the linkage to the guiding Sustainable Development goals explicit but argue that even they aren’t enough.  They say,
“The water–energy–food nexus has become central to discussions regarding the development and subsequent monitoring of the SDGs. However, while all of the proposed 17 SDGs also resonate with the concept of sustainable livelihoods, the term ‘livelihoods’ is not mentioned anywhere in current documentation.n This is counterintuitive given that, as we argue more fully in this paper, livelihoods are key to achieving sustainable development.”
And what do they mean by livelihoods?
“Broadly speaking,” they tell us, “approaches to sustainable development have focused on ‘top-down’ quantitative indicators based on scientific expertise and have a tendency to measure progress at national, regional and global scales. Conversely, sustainable livelihood approaches have tended towards more ‘bottom-up’ qualitative analyses of data obtained at household, community and local levels. Sustainable livelihood approaches have evolved from shifts in perspectives on poverty, participation and sustainable development (Sen, 1981; Chambers and Conway, 1992) and in 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development used the term ‘sustainable livelihoods’ for the first time in discussions on resource ownership, basic needs, and rural livelihood security…
Nexus thinking is advocated as an advance on current and often sector-specific governance of natural resource use. Current nexus framings are often focused on macro-level drivers of resource consumption patterns (see Table 1). However, ‘larger scale’ extraction and consumption of natural resources may lead to depletion of natural capital stocks and increased climate risk without an equitable share of the benefits”.
So this is the dimension that sits at the heart of the true nexus between food energy and water, and is the most politicized and hence often ignored. This is the dimension that creates the most uncertainty when it comes to using the nexus to reach our Sustainable Development Goals.  It was argued by Dr. Robert Bullard, the African American father of the Environmental Justice movement who is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas, that almost all environmental issues are really justice issues.
If our guiding moral principle is “do no harm” and we are not allowed to have a negative impact on any community, then we would definitely approach the nexus in an equitable way because we would add the social dimension to our considerations of food, water and energy sustainability.  The livelihoods of ALL people would matter, and we would be forced to think from the bottom up as much as we do from the top down.
Human tendencies to exploit one another and to marginalize different groups may be the most difficult part of achieving the gains and seeing the opportunities provided by the Food Energy Water Nexus .
We can only hope in these contentious and dangerous times  that the next generation of planners and policy makers and engineers includes social and environmental justice in the mix, whenever they look for solutions,  creating liberty and justice… for ALL.

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