Dr. James Stone, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, organized an October 2015 FEW workshop. The workshop, titled, A Sustainable Rural Framework Workshop for the Upper Great Plains, explored sustainable rural supply chain problems and related Food-Energy-Water nexus research needs in the semi-arid Upper Great Plains. Dr. Stone took time to answer some questions about FEW Nexus research.
Ariela Zycherman (AZ): What made you interested in the Food-Energy-Water nexus?
James Stone (JS): My recent research involves life-cycle assessments (LCA) of various environmental and food related systems. LCA is a tool which allows us to better understand the environmental impact of products and processes. It becomes apparent when conducting LCAs that agricultural production, energy, water, and the economics of these resources are inherently connected.AZ: What is your disciplinary background, and how do you see it relating to the nexus?
JS: My disciplinary background is in environmental engineering. I have worked extensively with heavy metal (mercury, arsenic and uranium) contamination, fate, and transport. My work with understanding contaminant fate and transport systems led to assessing broader environmental impacts of heavy metals and the incorporation of LCAs into the majority of my research group’s projects. LCA is a tool that can be used to quantify nexus impacts.
AZ: Why do you think the Food-Energy-Water nexus is important?
JS: The FEW nexus is the foundation of sustainability. These are the critical resources that we, our children, and their children’s children need to survive.
AZ: What do you enjoy about interdisciplinary collaboration?
JS: I enjoy learning and developing creative and effective solutions to problems. Researchers with different backgrounds provide interesting perspectives and ideas which help build better results. While the disciplinary ‘languages’ we all speak are inherently different, I enjoy acting as a ‘bridge’ between these groups.
AZ: Do you have any advice for young scholars who are interested in pursuing Food-Energy-Water nexus research?
JS: Start with one simple product or process, something that matters to you and is of personal interest. Then begin to detangle how it is influenced by or influences the other nexus components, the environment, and cost. Once you have a handle on the basic relationships, find ways to improve it.
AZ: What was the coolest thing you learned at the Food-Energy-Water Nexus workshop?
JS: The extent, and perhaps fragility, of the various supply chains within the northern Great Plains is fascinating. It is overwhelming how many people in the world depend upon the food, energy, and water resources that are produced there. Sustainability must start at the source of these materials – in the northern Great Plains.
Learn more about James Stone, and read the white paper from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology workshop.
James Stone 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.
Image courtesy James Stone.