Oct 8 2016

The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus: Lessons from India for Development

Reviewed by Elise Harrington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 Is there a water-energy-food security nexus? What can we learn about managing this nexus from India’s experience?



Edited by M. Dinesh Kumar, Nitin Bassi, A. Narayanamoorthy and M. V. K. Sivamohan The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus: Lessons from India for Development, Routledge, 2014, 246 pp.

The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus unpacks the three critical components of development in India given concerns about climate change and sustainable resource management.

While collectively the authors cover issues related to water management, energy pricing and agriculture, each chapter generally focuses on one component of the energy-water-food security nexus. The “nexus” is knit together primarily in the introduction and the conclusion, with the exception of chapters 6 and 8, which examine the potential impact of metered and subsidized electricity on groundwater use and agriculture. In the final chapter, M. Dinesh Kumar introduces a new nexus, the “politics-bureaucracy-academics” nexus––the combined force behind historical policies of free power, free water access and subsidies that he views as ineffective and costly approaches to development. Ultimately the goal of this volume “is to trigger an informed debate on some of the most controversial and yet unresolved issues concerning water-energy-food security nexus in developing countries.”

Despite the varying degrees to which each chapter addresses water, energy, and food security as integrated concerns or as individual challenges, three common themes emerge from this volume. First, the water management challenges presented highlight the need to reframe existing planning models to encourage integrated approaches that consider, for example, basin-wide hydrological planning (chapter 2) and integrated hydrological and economic planning (chapter 3). Second, each chapter focuses on a specific state, handful of states, or a particular geographic region, indicating that natural resource management in India must account for differing social, political, ecological and climatic conditions, allowing for solutions and policy experiments at subnational levels. Third, evidence points to new opportunities for policy experimentation related to pricing of water and energy that may help manage consumption and allow for increased measuring, monitoring and testing of new resource management solutions.

Sep 27 2013


Reviewed by Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr Brian Stone, Jr. provides new information about the disastrous heat island effects created by urban centers and prescribes various policy frameworks to help correct this increasingly urgent situation.

3 -- City and the Coming CLimate

The City and the Coming Climate: Climate Change in the Places We Live, by Brian Stone, Jr., Cambridge University Press, 2012, 187 pp.

In his incredibly important book, Professor Brian Stone and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology show in no uncertain terms that CO2 emissions are not the only cause of climate change. Thus, reducing CO2 emissions won’t address the heat waves and frightening heat island threats that kill more people than any other climate-related risk each year. The “loss of trees and other vegetative cover combined with the emission of waste heat from industries, vehicles and buildings” is causing dangerous heat island effects in cities all over the world. Climate science has tended to ignore the fact that cities are getting hotter than the countryside that surrounds them. And adaptation strategies that don’t reduce the causes of urban heat islands are beside the point.

In an easily accessible but scientifically scrupulous way, Stone explains why climate skeptics no longer have any basis for doubting that human actions are the cause of current worldwide temperatures increases. And, he provides persuasive modeling evidence to show that temperature increases in cities represent a serious health hazard.

Stone argues for (1) broadening the definition of climate change to encompass land-surface drivers; (2) a regional scale approach to monitoring and explaining temperature changes; (3) a commitment to forest protection and reforestation, particularly in developing countries like Brazil and Indonesia; and (4) adaptive mitigation (e.g. ways of reducing climate change impacts that help cities achieve other objectives at the same time).

In my view, Stone doesn’t get the international relations behind climate change treaty-making right; and, because he doesn’t put climate change treaty-making in the broader context of other global negotiations (e.g. perpetual North-South disagreements, the difficulties of getting any country to relinquish any of it sovereignty, enforcement problems with all international law, the principle of differentiated responsibility that was the key to getting developing countries to sign the original 1992 Framework Convention, etc.), his proposed reforms are less than compelling. Nevertheless, after reading this book it is impossible to think about climate change as a problem we can pass on to future generations. Cities need to do something now. Moreover, we don’t need international mandates to force us to implement land-based mitigation. The health and welfare of current residents depends on cities restoring vegetation and reducing (and capturing) the thermal radiation created by urban development.

Jun 24 2013


Reviewed by Jessica Debats, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices edited by JoAnn Carmin and Julian Agyeman, MIT Press, 2011, 320pp.

Globalization is transforming not only the environment, but the way environmental justice is pursued. Previous environmental justice studies focus on the distribution of local adverse impacts. However, distance can entrench inequalities, as remote communities receive the short-end of increasingly long supply chains. Through studies ranging from climate adaptation in South Africa, to mining investment in Fiji, to Chinese oil exploration in Africa, Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders provides an insightful portrait of the ways in which globalization enables environmental injustice and provides new means of challenging it.

The authors examine how spatial separation of consumption and production makes impacts less visible and responsibility more tenuous for environmental problems ranging from industrial waste to climate change. They show how international organizations inadvertently amplify inequities by prioritizing their own agendas rather than local concerns or indigenous values. Finally, they explore how globalization allows civil society to use international networks and multilevel governance to strengthen local responses to global pressures.

The authors go beyond the list of the “usual suspects.” Divisions are not just between North and South, but between developing nations. For instance, China, in its race to develop its economy, perpetuates environmental inequalities in other developing nations. While corporations and extractive industries are typically the “bad guys,” many of the studies in this volume show that NGOs are also guilty of perpetuating inequalities themselves.

While the authors demonstrate how communities tend to respond to present injustices, it would be helpful to know which policies might help developing countries prevent future injustices by generating more “good globalization” and less “bad globalization.” Since it is almost impossible to opt out of the global economy, we need to know how developing nations might pursue development pathways that will put them in a more advantageous global position. Zooming out would offer a useful companion to the fine-grained analysis of globalization’s local effects provided by Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders.

Feb 1 2013


Reviewed by Kathy Araújo
, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine propose and evaluate a novel, interdisciplinary framework to explain key influences in nuclear adoption pathways.

The National Politics of Nuclear Power: Economics, Security and Governance, by Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine,  Routledge, 292pp

Conventional policy writing on nuclear energy routinely turns to questions of safety and security, proliferation risk, siting, waste management, and opposition, among other considerations. However, much less is understood about underlying sociopolitical economy factors which shape national development trajectories. Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine attempt to demystify this subject by presenting a provocative theory on conditions which shape propensities for nuclear energy development.

Extending earlier work, such as Henry Nau’s National Politics and International Technology: Nuclear Reactor Development in Western Europe (1975), Sovacool and Valentine analyze eight cases of nuclearized countries from North America, Asia, and Europe. Indicating a principally neutral stance on the acceptability of nuclear energy, the two argue that six conditions are historically essential to sustaining commercial nuclear power development: (1) national security and secrecy; (2) technocratic ideology; (3) economic interventionism; (4) a centrally controlled energy stakeholder network; (5) subordination of opposition to political authority; and (6) social peripheralization. Going further, they contend that this set of conditions must exist simultaneously for there to be robust and fluid development of nuclear energy. Sovacool and Valentine also observe that undemocratic regimes are where nuclear development tends to flourish.

Criticism could arguably challenge the scope of determinants and development that are evaluated, or the decidedly inductive nature of the study. Yet reasonable responses exist for both. For the former, the authors acknowledge the novel nature of their framework and encourage further testing. For the latter, statistical analysis could miss deeper and more complex explanations.

Fundamentally, this writing enhances our understanding of nuclear power in areas which intersect with sustainability, governance, and planning, as well as security and development. Taken together, the strengths of the book lie in its lucid discussion of nuclear technology, its cross-country assessment of discrete adoption pathways, and its predictive examination of relevant conditions. At a time when the world muddles through its post-Fukushima thinking on nuclear energy, this book enlightens with a fascinating and timely contribution.

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