Catherine Kling: Spotlight on Food-Energy Water Systems (FEWS) Researchers

Dr. Catherine Kling, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor and President’s Chair of Environmental Economics at Iowa State University, organized a FEW workshop, held in October 2015, at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD). The workshop, titled Coupling Economic Models with Agronomic, Hydrologic, and Bioenergy Models for Sustainable Food, Energy, and Water Systems, explored the challenges for integrating biophysical and economic models to adequately capture the complexity of FEW systems. The workshop also identified key data and cyber infrastructure needs to improve these models. Kling took time to answer some questions about FEW Nexus research.

Ariela Zycherman (AZ): What made you interested in the Food-Energy-Water nexus?

Catherine Kling (CK): My research team is working at the interface of food and water in the Corn Belt. The rapid expansion of the corn-based ethanol industry in the last decade brought major change to the region. We have seen the nexus between food, energy, and water emerge in our own neighborhood in real time!

AZ: What is your disciplinary background and how do you see it relating to the nexus?

CK: I am environmental economist with interests in the design of environmental policies to address agricultural pollution problems (primary water quality) and the valuation of ecosystem services from agroecosystems. Water quality problems arising from intensive agricultural production (which are now primary inputs into food and energy production) are a classic example of what economists call “externalities.” These are a form of market failure.

AZ: What is the biggest challenge about working at the nexus?

CK: It’s complicated!

AZ: What do you enjoy about interdisciplinary collaboration?

CK: It is wonderful to meet highly motivated individuals with broad world view. While I remain strongly wedded to my disciplinary background, I believe my approach to studying economics has been enriched by learning from colleagues in other disciplines.

Learn more about Catherine Kling, and read the white paper from the Iowa State workshop.

Catherine Kling was interviewed by Ariela Zycherman, PhD, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems, Directorate of Engineering, National Science Foundation.

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