NEXUS-FLEXUS: Exploring the Intersection of Big Challenges and Innovative Solutions

By Alan Hecht

Illustration of interlocking rings of food, water, and energy.The world today faces a host of daunting and inter-related challenges which collectively impact us in an equally diverse set of ways: thwarting economic growth, threatening public health and social wellbeing, and undermining existing environmental protection efforts.

For example, as a result of climate change we face more frequent extreme weather events, extended droughts, and increased health risks due to deteriorating urban air quality. Other dynamic problems include burgeoning urban communities, aging water infrastructure, land loss and ecosystem decline due to sprawl, and projected increased demands for energy, water, and food. It is estimated that by 2030, population growth and consumption together will spark the need for 40% more fresh water, 50% more energy, and 35% more food worldwide.

I recently blogged about such “mega trends” and how colleagues and partners from within EPA and beyond are embracing sustainable development to meet these urgent challenges. Administrator Gina McCarthy in her short dialog of issues for 2015 noted that “envisioning and responding to future problems is a critical need” that Agency science and public dialog could fulfill.

That is why I’m thrilled to be representing EPA at a public webinar organized by the Security and Sustainability Forum on Mega Trends and Food-Energy-Water Nexus on July 30, from 1:25 pm to 2:45 pm (EDT). Joining me will be Dr. Steven Cohen, Executive Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, and Robert Engelman, Senior Fellow and former President of the Worldwatch Institute.

The webinar will explore emerging trends and the challenges and opportunities in meeting food, water and energy goals in developed and developing nations on a changing planet. Discussions will focus on the innovations in science and technology needed to improve the practices of farmers, engineers, resource managers, and policy-makers to meet human needs in a far more sustainable manner.

Together, we will explore several important and interrelated concepts:

  • Food-water-energy-land nexus which emphasizes the need for a systems approach to problem solving.
  • Resilience which emphasizes the capacity for complex, adaptive systems (e.g., cities, companies) to survive, adapt, and flourish in the face of turbulent change from extreme weather events and other potential disruptions as a key to stemming the impact of emerging mega trends. Resilience is now a prerequisite for achieving sustainable outcomes.
  • Achieving Sustainability which describes outcomes that respond to mega trends, adopting a nexus and systems approach, and building a resilient response. We must go beyond the traditional risk paradigm that has driven much of our environmental protection actions over the past decades and instead adopt a systems approach that accounts for the combined economic, social, and environmental impacts. We must make decisions that recognize the linkages (nexus) of air-water-land use and social wellbeing.

Please join me and my fellow panelists as we discuss these important concepts and how innovation and public dialog can offer solutions to today’s daunting mega trends.

Sign up for the webinar on the Security and Sustainability Forum website: www.ssfonline.org.

About the Author: Alan Hecht is the Director for Sustainable Development in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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