09 April 2013

The nexus of bullshit

I've criticized the idea of a water-energy-food-land-climate-everything else nexus for some time, but the underlying problem with the concept just hit me: it's an excuse for water managers who do not want to take the blame for their inability to sustainably manage their supplies.

Nexus logic "says" that energy must be managed to reduce the load on water sources. That means, in other words, that energy demand for water is too high.

Fine, but how about reducing the quantity of water demanded from energy users by, e.g., raising its price (administratively) or rationing its quantity (in a market)?* Water managers can do either and get rid of the problem.**

Bottom Line: There is no water-energy nexus. There's only water managers' failure to ration their valuable product.
* "Demand" consists of a "demand curve" that's a function of technology, tastes, substitutes, etc. That demand can be reduced by a change in taste, etc. Quantity demanded -- given that curve -- will fall if the price of water rises (holding tastes, etc. constant).

** With political support, but that would be forthcoming for any manager who says that action is necessary for sustainability.


  1. Carol Steinfeld13 April, 2013 00:39

    The "water-energy nexus" just means grant-dispensing organizations can write that on their checks.

    As with the Gates Foundation, granters like to think they are funding some kind of new thinking about a problem.

  2. Just because your prescription may help doesn't mean that your diagnosis is correct.

  3. @Ian -- So if my diagnosis (nexus is a waste of time) is not correct, then you think that it improves water and energy management -- without distracting from other relevant issues?

  4. You know far better than I do that water, energy, land etc etc are not independent systems or variables.

    In the absence of infinite time and intellectual capacity, and when addressing what seem to be urgent problems, of course certain of these will need to be overlooked.

    The question of what is "relevant" here is deeply political.

    Even if you've not found useful policy prescriptions yet to emerge from this sprawling "nexus" literature (and yes, much of it may read like bullshit), it doesn't mean that a more holistic approach is not worth considering.

  5. Is there a link between wearing a tie and talking about a 'nexus'?
    Some people like to talk about themselves – there might be a link between ties and nexus.
    In the mean time overpopulation is still ignored...

  6. @Ian -- good point, but I'd argue that (1) nobody understands water, let alone water-energy, (2) water-x may be more relevant -- and relatively ignored -- in the water-energy discussion and (3) LOTS of resources, etc. are managed quite well from a monolithic perspective (get your house in order). I've NEVER run across any reason for worrying about the energy content of water (or v.v.) when they are sustainably managed in their component parts. Have you?

  7. @Chalchiuhtlicue -- hahhaha... Well, I just wore a tie for the first time in a few years for a World Bank mission, and I'm pretty sure that the connection between our meetings and reality was broken.

  8. The interactions of water and energy systems are wide-ranging and interesting, but are mostly hydropower, pumping, hot water heating, and perhaps eventually smart grid management. Alas, most "water-energy nexus" discussion is more fad and fashion than substance, and distracts conversation from serious analysis. Taking two cool subjects followed by the cool word "nexus" is a sure-fire way to come up with a cool proposal title.


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