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Top Story

Diving deep into water and energy trade-offs

In two recent papers, scientists challenge a more simplistic input/output view of natural resources in favor of a way that better reflects how the world works: that these natural resources don't just flow or gush down pipelines. Rather, sometimes energy whisks across the world, stored in the materials it produces, and water moves stored in crops it made grow. People don't always see the impacts of their decisions beyond a balance ledger: that places poor in water or energy will still accept money to ship away that very resource they lack -- often to a place that doesn't want for that same resource, but happy to conserve it. In the two papers, a team of scientists looks at the virtual trade of energy and water -- together. They used China -- vast in its consumption of natural resources and its epic growth -- as an example. This nexus approach is able to factor trade into this exchange and was able to tease out unseen impacts. The group employs the integrated framework of metacoupling, which holistically examines environmental and socioeconomic interactions within and across borders, to fully understand the trading of natural resources. They found that the virtual energy transferred west to east was much greater than the physical energy that moves through China's massive infrastructure.

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