Water, Food, and Energy: The Danger and Potential of the Nexus

Although we fundamentally rely on all three resources, we seldom understand the force behind their Nexus

NEXUS project by Nexus Vision by Studio SyroUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The Nexus

In an imagined and sustainable future, Grandma tells a story to her grandson, Jackson, about how the world was once dealing with a deep environmental crisis, and how society managed to carefully restore its natural resources. 

She paints a picture of human civilization, from the early agricultural revolution all the way to the futuristic smart city surrounding them, and how it has always depended on a great power: the Nexus of water, food, and energy. 

Grandma then takes Jackson on a journey across present-day Earth to help him understand the complexity and interconnectedness behind the Nexus, and ask him what he believes we as a species can do to hope for a better future.

Five Ways The Nexus Is Deeply Impacting Our Planet by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Five Ways The Nexus Is Deeply Impacting Our Planet

They arrive on Earth as we know it today and Grandma begins by asking her grandson: what happens when humans geo-engineer water flows on a massive scale?

Are ancient deposits of carbon from bygone ecosystems really supposed to be dug out and consumed? 

The Dramatic Conversion of the Amazon by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The Dramatic Conversion of the Amazon

Their first stop is the Amazon, which contains almost half of all tropical rainforest on Earth and provides a third of the fresh air we breathe.

It is also being rapidly converted into soybean, palm and sugar plantations, or cleared for cattle ranching, industries that feed upon each other to service a growing, worldwide appetite. 

 The lives of millions of South Americans are changing, for better or worse. Grandma asks Jackson: can we find a balance between things like native and diverse food sources, species conservation, healthy tree canopies and modernized agricultural systems?

Amazon Rainforest by Alexander GerstUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

What is a rainforest? Asks Grandma. Scientists believe that healthy, diverse tropical forests have the power to create rain. 

Jackson witnesses that as water evaporates from their leaves, a process called transpiration, the moisture from the thick canopy collects in the air above, forming clouds, ultimately causing that moisture to fall back down.

Timelapse 1984-2020 (1984) by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The Greenhouses of Almeria, Spain by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

The Greenhouses of Almeria, Spain

They arrive next in Almeria, Southern Spain, where they find the largest conglomeration of greenhouses in the world. Season after season, this massive field of plastic roofs is able to feed over a third of Europe. 

But the land and water use footprint of these food powerhouses is causing severe stress on the region's water resources and soil health. Grandma tells how this imbalance is also felt by some people working hidden underneath these roofs.

iss008e14686 - Almeria Greenhouses by NASA JohnsonUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Jackson wonders if anything grew in the past in this desertic area and if the soil was ever healthy and water flows abundant. He also notices solar energy plugged-in to the food growing system. 

How connected are these greenhouses with the surrounding ecosystem and community? Grandma tells of supermarkets around the continent that employ thousands of people, and Jackson realizes how closely connected they are with the growing supply of Almeria.

Timelapse 1984-2020 (1984) by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Aral Sea - satellite by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Grandma takes Jackson onward…

Resources are Not Infinite, The Aral Sea by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Resources are Not Infinite, The Aral Sea

They travel to a place right between the nations of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan: the Aral Sea.

Grandma tells how half a century ago this lake was the fourth largest in the world, as big as the country of Ireland! But Jackson quickly realizes that it has shrunk tremendously. 

Together, they stare at massive swathes of toxic salt plains, with buried chemical waste, pesticides and fertilizer residue. What on Earth happened here? Grandma tells Jackson that many people around suffer from health problems and are in desperate need of fresh water. 

Moynaq, Aral Sea by Arian ZwegersUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Ships that once fished the abundant sea are now marooned, reminders of an ecosystem that once thrived here. Jackson wonders what could have possibly driven people to dramatically shrink this once mighty body of water.

Timelapse 1984-2020 (1984) by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Desert Crop Circles - satellite by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Grandma and Jackson continue their journey to another part of the globe.

Food in the Desert by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Food in the Desert

They arrive in Saudi Arabia, where crop circles sprout in the middle of the desert. Jackson ponders this extraordinary human feat. 

But Grandma warns that growing fruits, vegetables and grain in such a harsh environment comes at a price. The plants in the middle of the desert are kept alive with water that is pumped from deep underground.

It had been sitting there since the last Ice Age 20,000 years ago but is now very quickly brought up thanks to large amounts of energy.

Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, Saudi Arabia by NASA's Marshall Space Flight CenterUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Jackson and Grandma look at these engineered plantations from space. Jackson finds them incredibly isolated and fragile. He wonders whether these efforts can be enough to change an entire desert ecosystem. 

Timelapse 1984-2020 (1984) by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Niger River Basin - satellite by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

A green pushback, the Niger River Basin by Google EarthUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

A green pushback, the Niger River Basin

Grandma shows Jackson the natural flooding process of the Niger River, which allows the inner delta to flourish with biodiversity and natural resources that contribute to the wellbeing of local people.

But due to severe droughts, huge population growth and widespread, intensive farming practices, this wondrous environment lost much of its biomass and gave way to advancing desert. 

To counter it, thousands of local farmers planted more than 200 million trees in the last three decades. To Jackson’s eyes, it looks like the largest positive transformation of the environment in the whole of Africa.

Women in the CERNAFA cooperative_DSC3277f by Stephan Gladieu / World BankUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Jackson watches a farmer water his vegetables near the Niger River in Bamako. Grandma tells him that it was the farmers who made the transformation of the area possible by planting trees in the desert. He feels hopeful before his Grandma takes him back to their future. 

NEXUS project by Nexus Vision by Nexus VisionUnited Nations Climate Change Conference COP26

Grandma and Jackson return home to a highly biodiverse London park and ponder the incredible, sometimes scary changes to Earth they witnessed. They will surely have much to talk about. 

NEXUS project ending by Nexus Vision, Nexus Vision, From the collection of: United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26
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To experience the full story of Jackson and Grandma in Virtual Reality, visit the NEXUS project at nexusvision.org and follow it on social media!

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views and opinions of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The mere appearance of the story on this website does not constitute an endorsement by the UN Climate Change Conference COP26. The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness or completeness of third party material included in the story featured.

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