The nexus between water, energy, and food poses a challenge to the quantitative analysis of complex social-ecological systems and clearly exposes the limitations of scientific reductionism. Conventional solutions, such as re-adjusting the mix of production factors – substituting a less-limited resource to compensate for a shortage of another – or externalization of the problem by taking full advantage of presently favourable terms of trade, are bound to become unsustainable in the long run.
Relational analysis of the metabolic pattern of social-ecological systems across dimensions and scales is based on complexity thinking and represents a promising novel approach to the quantitative analysis of complex systems. It uses MUlti-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM) for the quantitative accounting, which makes it possible to check the feasibility (compatibility with external constraints determined by processes beyond human control), viability (compatibility with internal constraints determined by processes under human control), and desirability (compatibility with existing institutions and normative values) of the actual metabolic pattern of socio-ecological systems and of proposed scenarios under various national and EU directives.
Rather than simplifying the information space, MuSIASEM focuses on revealing the complex interrelations between structural and functional elements of social-ecological systems across various hierarchical levels and scales of organization. Three applications of this novel approach are presented: (i) green-house vegetable production in Almeria, Spain; (ii) animal production in Scotland, UK; and (iii) an integrated system of using alternative energy to desalinate sea-water for use in agricultural production in the Canary Islands.
Lecturer: Mario Giampietro
Mario Giampietro is ICREA Research Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA) of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Spain. He works on integrated assessment of sustainability issues using new concepts developed in complex systems theory. He has developed a novel scientific approach called Multi-Scale Integrated Analysis of Societal and Ecosystem Metabolism (MuSIASEM) integrating biophysical and socioeconomic variables across multiple scales, thus establishing a link between the metabolism of socio-economic systems and the potential constraints of the embedding natural environment. Recent research focuses on the nexus between land use, food, energy and water in relation to sustainable development goals. He has (co)authored over one hundred publications, including six books, in research themes such as multi-criteria analysis of sustainability; multi-scale integrated assessment of agroecosystems; energy analysis; alternative energy technologies; biofuel; bioeconomics; science for governance.
The 12th Conference on Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems – SDEWES Conference, to be held in Dubrovnik in 2017, is dedicated to the improvement and dissemination of knowledge on methods, policies and technologies for increasing the sustainability of development by de-coupling growth from natural resources and replacing them with knowledge based economy, taking into account its economic, environmental and social pillars.