22 May 2013

The nexus of distractions

I've called it the nexus of bullshit, but I think that the greater danger of trying to manage the water-energy-food-climate-etc nexus is that a focus on one relationship will distract from other, important relationships while a focus on all relationships leads to paralysis.

I think it's easier and more effective for water managers to concentrate on balancing water supply and demand, no matter where it comes from.

Your thoughts?


Grant said...

David, you'll know from our conversation the other day that I do think it's useful.

Useful in socio-political setting, that is. Most people are fully aware of agriculture's dependency on water. I'd wager money that far less are aware of how much water is needed to produce power. So, talking about the WEN is useful IMO because it creates awareness about this (overlooked) aspect, and helps to underscore water's widespread economic importance in the process.

And, of course, the "nexus" itself is interesting precisely because there is an interdependency. You need water for energy, and energy for water. You couldn't say that about food... Well, depending on how hungry the system operators get :)


David Zetland said...

@Grant -- putting aside the fact that we disagree on the basic premise, then what? Now that you've got people's attention about the nexus, what next? Are they going to make good decisions (i.e., taking opportunity costs into account) or distorted decisions due to an overemphasis on the "nexused item"?

Jorge Bielsa said...

I think this is not a problem about the existence, or the lack thereof, of a nexus between water and the rest of aspects. The real problem is the existence of a bunch of public agencies whose main activity consists in organizing a lot of meetings without any specific goal, so they usually end up speaking about the same broad aspects. Furthermore, they also publish tons of paper containing the same vague ideas, which sound very insightful, but do not contain any practical or really new course of action.
But it is understandable that such organizations, which manage a not negligible budget, must justify the funds they receive. What is not so understandable, thought, is that local and national governments spend a dime in promoting and encouraging such useless and theatre - like events or bubble publications.
Summing up: There is a lot to research in the water-energy domain (for instance), but I would not expect great advances coming from such great-words-with-no-content crew.

David Zetland said...

@Jorge -- hahahaha... awesome.

I agree, of course, but then what do we do about it? I talk about markets and prices to get them OUT of management, but they do not seem to want to quit!

Grant McDermott said...


Are they going to make good decisions?
I'd hope so. Certainly, being more informed about the extent to which water acts as a critical economic factor of production should help. (Anecdotal aside: My own research would not have happened if I hadn't started coming across articles about the WEN.) As ordinary people and policy-makers increasingly realise that water is far than the stuff that comes out of our taps at home, the more chance we have of pricing the stuff better, and mitigating potential vulnerabilities.

I'll try an (imperfect) analogy... The discussion on climate change has been bound up with an emphasis on CO2. However, we know that other GHGs are influencing the climate as well (e.g. methane). Still, focusing on CO2 has helped to create an initial traction w.r.t. the public mindset. If we ultimately establish a carbon price it will be in large part because of this. What matters after that is to extend this carbon price other GHGs.

PS - I'm not sure how we disagree on the basic premise?

David Zetland said...

@Grant -- we agree on the basic premise if it's as you stated ("gotta start somewhere") but I worry about people who STOP there and people who try to (over)manage what they can measure. That's why i do not say "do nothing;" I say "manage water and the REST will take care of itself..."

Jorge Bielsa said...

As I understand it, it is not a question of getting out anybody or anything from the management arena. The question is, from the starting point of acknowledging the interdependences, to go forward and say: this means that in the case X, the valuation of all these aspects has to be done in the way Y. Afterwards, either in a centralized or in a decentralized way (I know you would prefer strongly the later), somebody has to implement such theories in local experimental frameworks and say: this works and this don't.
I do feel the same as you: it is really appalling to hear/read seventeen times the same general things. I specially hate the following sentence: let's start saying that water is a very complicated resource. I always think: If it depends on you, it will continue so forever.

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