Transcending “Scale Challenges” of the Water-Energy Nexus

Environmental Research Interdisciplinary Colloquium (ERIC)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
5:00 – 6:00 pm
ENC 1002, USF
Transcending “Scale Challenges” of the Water-Energy Nexus
Dr. E. Christian Wells
Professor of Anthropology,USF

Abstract: Climate change and population growth over the past century have precipitated recent major shifts in global resources management, including diminished water supplies and an increasing transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. These changes have happened so rapidly that traditional approaches to managing water and energy—two critical resources that make daily life possible—are no longer sustainable. Emerging approaches to resources management recognize the interdependencies of water and energy systems (e.g., water is used in all phases of energy production, and energy is required to deliver water and treat wastewater), but these resources are regulated separately in most countries. Moreover, recent reforms responding to issues of supply, sustainability, and economic efficiency continue to reinforce the divide between water and energy systems. The result is a lack of understanding of how water and energy are embedded together in society, economy, and environment.

Both public sector planning and private enterprise have been slow to take advantage of the water-energy nexus, largely because of “scale challenges” that impede our ability to situate novel, closed-loop technologies in appropriate social, political, and economic contexts. Drawing from recent anthropological research in Belize, Dr. Wells explores how the disconnections and fragmentations between the scales at which water and energy are managed create challenges for developing and deploying context-sensitive technologies and for devising governance systems to deal with transboundary environmental phenomena. He argues that, by accounting for the intricate and multidimensional relationships between the social-technical organization of water and energy and the power contests that structure access to and exclusion from these resources, nexus thinking can reduce tradeoffs, build synergies across sectors, enable legitimate stakeholder participation in decision making, and can serve as a basis for evidence-informed policy for water and energy management.

Biography: Dr. E. Christian Wells is Professor of Anthropology at USF, where he has served as the Founding Director of the Office of Sustainability and as Deputy Director of the Patel College of Global Sustainability. In 2011, he was awarded the Jerome Krivanek Distinguished Teacher Award by USF and the Black Bear Award by the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay “in recognition of outstanding dedication to sustainability and the environment.” Dr. Wells is an environmental anthropologist with a solutions-oriented research agenda that seeks to improve our understanding of the coupled cultural, historical, and ecological trajectories of global change problems. He studies how humans use culture to adapt to changing environments, and the consequences of this process for human-environmental trajectories. Over the past 15 years, he has undertaken field research in Mexico and Central America, the British West Indies, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the United States with funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and other agencies. His research has been covered by various media outlets, including The New York Times, Chemical & Engineering News, and New Scientist, among others. He has written or edited over 100 books, articles, chapters, reviews, and reports.

ERIC is an inter-college seminar series at USF, organized by the Departments of Environmental Dr. Wells ERIC symposium& Occupational Health, Civil & Environmental Engineering, and the Environmental Science & Policy Program.

Leave a Reply