"Urbanization, agricultural intensification, nuclear power, aquaculture, and desalination are all processes with a demonstrated potential to reduce human demands on the environment, allowing more room for non-human species."
Putting aside the debate on any of the above approaches, let's look at OPOE's experience in the field with two of these technologies as they relate to climate change. On the small Caribbean island of Barbuda aquaponics are being studied as a viable food source due to the impacts of declining ocean fish populations and the high costs of importing food. In this context, Aquaponics produces fish for human consumption and the recycled water is used to grow vegetables, thus reducing the community's dependence on declining natural fish stocks and imported food.
In Bequia, desalination provides drinking water during disasters. And while expensive, the desalination facility also reduces the local impact of drought - a major issue across the Caribbean. Both technologies have the potential to allow local residents to remain in their small island communities and without which, forced migration may be a more likely alternative.
However, like many technologies that at first glance seem like "miracle cures", desalination and aquaponics have their downsides and can lead to maladaptation and path dependency (path dependency here refers to decisions that limit future climate adaptation options by locking investments into options that are not easily adjusted to changes in future conditions). Aquaponics is extremely energy intensive, and without substantial investment in alternative energies like solar, communities may be stuck using fossil fuels to power their facilities. The gains in producing local food may be negated by the increased energy expenditures and the health risks associated with burning fossil fuels. The decision to move to aquaponics may in fact replace one path dependency with another - shifting from importing food to importing fuel. Like aquaponics, the same is true in the case of desalination.
And herein lies the difficulty of balancing present and future needs with available technologies. Increased droughts due to the effects of climate change will prove the desalination plant on Bequia very useful to the local community. But the universal application of these technologies may not always reduce human demands on the environment. Counter to the context in Bequia, the desalination plant at Wonthaggi, Victoria, Australia and the corresponding Sugarloaf Pipeline water transportation project are concerning examples of path dependency, not to mention the concerning social equity and environmental justice issues with these projects. In addition to reducing incentives for behavior change by reducing water consumption, the desalination plant is estimated to triple the annual operation emissions of Melbourne's water supply and sewage treatment. (In 2008, Melbourne water emitted 284,500 tonnes CO2e and it is estimated that upon completion, the plant's annual emissions will rise to over 900,000 tonnes CO2e.)*
Understanding the implications of technological solutions requires an understanding of potential tradeoffs and path dependencies. Further, it requires a recognition that not all technologies provide the same benefits at all scales and locations - not all technologies are universally beneficial. Decision making in the absence of this type of localized information runs the risk of solving one problem by creating another.
What do you think?
* Barnett, J. et. al., 2013, Reducing the risk of maladaptation in response to sea-level rise an urban water scarcity, in Successful adaptation to climate change: linking science and policy in a rapidly changing world, Eds. Moser, Susanne C. and Maxwell T. Boykoff.
Check out our entire archive below...
- Jul 12, 2016 New Video: Puruvesi (Ice fishing in Finland) Jul 12, 2016
- Mar 5, 2016 Puruvesi Mar 5, 2016
- Jul 14, 2015 Almost, Exactly Average or: How I Stopped Worrying and Started to Love Crowdfunding Jul 14, 2015
- Jul 8, 2015 Summer on the Jukajoki Jul 8, 2015
- May 18, 2015 What are they building in there? May 18, 2015
- May 7, 2015 No Silver Bullet: Ecomodernism, Technology, and Path Dependency May 7, 2015
- Nov 11, 2014 Some Fish, Some Tango, and a Fiery Goodbye Nov 11, 2014
- Oct 26, 2014 62° 39' 00" N, 30° 08' 00" E Oct 26, 2014
- Oct 14, 2014 Bluefields to Wawashang - Final Nicaragua Installment Oct 14, 2014
- Oct 3, 2014 Monkey Point & Bangkukuk: Part 2 Oct 3, 2014
- Oct 1, 2014 Monkey Point & Bangkukuk: Part 1 Oct 1, 2014
- Sep 30, 2014 ¿Que Podemos Hacer Juntos? (What Can We Do Together?) Sep 30, 2014
- Sep 11, 2014 Reflections on Union and a Brief Respite with Cosmos Sep 11, 2014
- Sep 2, 2014 The Sea Will Rise, Barbuda Will Survive Sep 2, 2014
- Aug 25, 2014 OPOE in Antigua or, Tarantulas, LambLions & Plumeria Aug 25, 2014
- Aug 24, 2014 A Farwell to Union, Hello Grenada Aug 24, 2014
- Aug 10, 2014 I'll Have One Film Workshop, With a Side of Chicken Fever Aug 10, 2014
- Aug 4, 2014 Island Hopping - from Bequia to Union Aug 4, 2014
- Jul 30, 2014 A Sub, a Princess, Chicken and Bake - Another OPOE Week in Review Jul 30, 2014
- Jul 20, 2014 From Santa Fe to St. Vincent - OPOE's First Week in the Field Jul 20, 2014
- May 30, 2014 Fast Tracking Climate Adaptation–tapping our natural tendency to experiment May 30, 2014
- May 21, 2014 Reframing Despair May 21, 2014
- May 8, 2014 May 13th Campaign Launch! Help Build Momentum May 8, 2014
- May 5, 2014 Update - letter of support from USAID! May 5, 2014
- April 2014