The Sciences

A Word on Water and Energy

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumAug 20, 2010 3:39 PM


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If you've been reading Jared Diamond or Brian Fagan, you know that sustained droughts are correlated with collapsed civilizations. This should come as no surprise given that a top global health concern is access to clean water and sanitation. We require water to survive, grow, and stay healthy. More precisely, we are water. Energy and water are interrelated: Energy is used to produce, heat, move, and treat water. We use water to create energy. Thus, constraints on one pose constrains on the other. Many of us do not recognize this. Meanwhile, the world population is booming, climate change adds pressure to the hydrological cycle, and global economic growth increases demand for each. I've oversimplified the relationship for the purpose of a blog post, but the take home message for readers should be clear: Water and energy are deeply intertwined. Our current policies are now shifting to increase energy demand for water for activities such as desalination, long-haul pipelines, deep aquifer production, and stricter water and treatment standards. Concurrently, we are ramping up water-intensive energy strategies worldwide to meet electricity demands, for nuclear power, biofuel production, and other alternatives. Something's gotta give.

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