event 26 Apr 2022

Research Article // Exorcising Malthusian ghosts: Vaccinating the Nexus to advance integrated water, energy and food resource resilience

By Paul S. Kempa, Michele Acutob, Shaun Larcomc, Darren Lumbrosod, Markus R .Owene. This paper explored the nature of Nexus interactions, such as trade-offs and synergies, and how they vary with, and are influenced by, spatial and temporal scales; how biases can impede integrated resource management; how shocks may be used to improve systems resilience, in a process the authors refer to as “Vaccinating the Nexus”; and how increased interdisciplinarity in governance, research and education may facilitate more holistic resource management in the future

1 s2 0 S2666049021000840 gr2 lrg

Fig. 2. Methods of “everyday education” that range from passive assimilation of information to active search for knowledge in areas that are intrinsically interdisciplinary (in this case focusing on fisheries and infrastructure related issues). Top left: public information plaque explaining history of Grand Coulee Dam construction in the US; top right: collectable education cards purchased with tea and introducing the public to fish identification; middle left: bill board providing a conservation message in downtown Seattle, US; middle right: visitor centre informing the public of fish passage issues in Seattle, US; bottom left: public engagement event to explain hazards associated with river infrastructure as part of “Fish Migration Day”, UK; bottom right: increasing public awareness of river fragmentation due to infrastructure through citizen science projects, Europe.


Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus interactions vary from seemingly negative and intractable wicked problems to opportunities for enhanced sustainability. The aim of this paper is to review the current state of understanding on WEF resource interactions and to provide a roadmap to enhance integrated resource management. A qualitative perspective based on expert insight and experience was supported by a more quantitative systematic analysis of the literature to define Nexus interactions, describe the nature of different challenges, and explore the factors that influence them. We found that Nexus challenges, and associated interactions (e.g. trade-offs and synergies), vary with complexity and spatial and temporal scale, and biases in research and culture act as barriers to progress. An interdisciplinary approach is needed to develop technical solutions employed through the use of orchestrated shocks (e.g. historic analogues, predictive modelling, experimentation, and scenario planning) to “Vaccinate the Nexus” and improve system resilience. To achieve this, multidisciplinary capability should be developed to solve interdisciplinary challenges, while protecting specialism. It is recognised that through embracing complexity and “Nexus (or Systems) Thinking”, future integration of resource management may be facilitated through holistic education, informed by interdisciplinary research, and ingrained in cross-sector policy and governance.


April 2022


Current Research in Environmental Sustainability


Kemp, P. S., Acuto, M., Larcom, S., Lumbroso, D., & Owen, M. R. (2022). Exorcising Malthusian ghosts: Vaccinating the Nexus to advance integrated water, energy and food resource resilience. Current Research in Environmental Sustainability, 4, 100108.


Download the full research article here.

Related Articles

Stay up to date!

We inform you about current projects, events, actions, publications and news!