Hot 5: GAO Water Report. Harvested Acreage Per Capita. MRUniversity. The Aquaponic Source. Surviving Progress.

1. GAO Energy-Water Nexus Report.

In September 2012, the GAO came out with the “Energy-Water Nexus” report.

Since 2009, the GAO has issued five reports on the interdependencies that exist between energy and water. This increase in water use associated with energy development is being driven, in part, by rising energy demand, increased development of domestic energy, and shifts to more water-intense energy sources and technologies. A considerable amount of water is used to cool thermoelectric power plants, grow feedstocks and convert them into biofuels, and extract oil and natural gas from geologic formations.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the energy sector has been the fastest growing water consumer in the United States in recent years and is projected to account for 85 percent of the growth in domestic water consumption between 2005 and 2030.

Oil shale development would also require a great deal of water if commercial production of this energy source becomes economically feasible in the future.

Biofuels, which require the use of large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to grow the feedstock may negatively affect water quality. Development of oil and gas resources can produce large volumes of wastewater —known as “produced water”— that must be disposed of or treated to allow for its reuse.

Significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas, additionally contributing to energy demand.

Included in the report is a mention of drawing down Ogallala aquifer water unsustainably to grow biofuels crops, no-till farming practices, and climate change leading to more demand for irrigation.

2. Harvested Acreage Per Capita Has Fallen.

Note: The crops include barley, corn, millet, oats, rye, sorghum, wheat, mixed grain, rice and oilseeds (copra, palm kernel, cottonseed, peanut, rapeseed, soybean, sunflower seed). This graph was provided by Chris Erickson, Managing Director of HighQuest Partners LLC for the summer Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Meeting held in July 2012.

• Global harvested acreage has increased by 41% to estimated 916 million hectares in 2012 from 648 million hectares in 1964.

• Global harvested acreage on a per capita basis has dropped 35% to estimated 0.13 ha/person in 2012 from 0.2 ha/person in 1964.

3. Online Learning from MRUniversity.

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution have created an online education platform they named MRUniversity. It is meant to teach the basics in Development Economics largely through short video presentations.

Recently added to the set are two categories that might especially interest readers here:

● Food and Agricultural Productivity

● Water Economics

If you wish to use this resource, go to this page and click on the subject heading that you are interested in.

4. The Aquaponic Source.

Last weekend, I finally met and toured Boulder’s own Aquaponics pioneering facility. Sylvia Bernstein’s energy is through the roof and her enthusiasm for aquaponics is contagious. She was part of the development team for the very popular indoor AeroGarden product. She now carries this hydroponic gardening knowledge over to doing research, teaching, writing, and encouraging others to take up aquaponics. To help with their business, the Aquaponics Source, her husband who is retired from computer science enjoys the design and engineering aspect of the operations. I asked Sylvia what concern about today’s world motivates her in promoting this food production system model, and she answered “water”.

The Bersteins bought a property with an existing (energy inefficient) greenhouse from which they run their aquaponics system, growing a large amount of year-round fresh produce for their family and about 50 pounds of talapia per year. Aquaponics combines hydroponics and fish farming by using the waste from the fish as nutrients for the vegetables. She wrote the book “Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together” and keeps a nice blog about her work, too. Check it out!

5. Documentary: Surviving Progress.

I watched this film recently and thought it was quite well done. Based on Ronald Wright’s book, “A Short History of Progress”, the movie interviews notables such as Jane Goodall and Vaclav Smil. The overall question is human advancement and its price.

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