“Bear” @ UCSD by Tim Hawkinson

Our Energy Future public lecture series is the first of it’s kind to be offered at University of California – San Diego. This series helps to start off the campus wide Advanced Energy Initiative, bringing together experts in the sustainability industry to talk with professionals and students in our community! Take a look at the last lecture BioSurplus attended on October 10th on the impact of energy on climate change. In this week of the Our Energy Future lecture series, presenters focused on Energy, Water, and Food Security as they all relate to each other.

Energy, Water, and Food Security

Staying true to the essence of the lecture series, this installment does a great job of integrating the work and perspectives of both academics and professionals in the field of sustainability. The last of four lectures, this talk is MC’d by Cynthia Warner, CEO of Sapphire Energy. The night begins with a talk about the field of renewable biofuels and Ms. Warner’s work with developing renewable, domestic fuel from algae. Unknown to most of the general public, there is an entire untapped arena for renewable fuel options as well as a growing challenge to find a sustainable, low-carbon solution to supplement the world petroleum supply. By utilizing the environmental properties of San Diego, and surrounding areas, in combination with the biological properties of algae, sunlight and CO2, a supplementary source of petroleum is achievable locally. Ms. Warner goes on to dovetail very nicely to Steven Brigg’s talk on Energy and Modern Agriculture.

CJ Warner of Sapphire Energy
Cynthia Warner – CEO, Sapphire Energy

What are the connections between energy and agriculture? How should we manage these connections? Steven Briggs posits these question to the audience, with no intention of answering them himself. At least, not directly. Diving into the historical context of innovations in agriculture, Briggs does a wonderful job of drawing the historical lines that connect energy to agriculture. We found his talk to be particularly interesting as it helped us to realize what type of role agriculture can play in respect to energy consumption. From the humble beginnings of animal domestication and irrigation, all the way to industrialization and farming optimization, Briggs dissects the impact on energy of varying elements in agriculture. The most surprising fact that he brought up is the impact of chemical fertilizers. Providing the first coupling of fuel prices to food prices, Briggs shows us how petroleum based chemical fertilizers and gasoline tractors have impacted the price of food and fuels over time.

Not to be outdone, our next presenter, Dan Cayan, lets his relaxed personality shine through. With scattered references and “jabs” to his colleague Steven Briggs, Dan Cayan shows the audience how understanding climate variability affects water resources in North America and beyond. His research concerns the impact of all the climate factors and how they impact the ecosystems, agriculture and elements of human health. Once again, we see a common theme in this discussion. Cayan is able to eloquently adhere energy values to the climate changes we are experiencing currently. One aspect he touches upon is the notion that changes in our climate have an amplified effect on energy consumption as it becomes more difficult to get water to more arid regions and more arid regions are becoming exposed due to changes in global climate. We were most impressed by Cayan’s ability to really hit the lecture’s topic dead on and his ability to juxtapose the significance of energy, water and food security.

Overall, this was yet another well formulated and thought out lecture for the series. There are consequences of innovation that has coupled the price of food and water to fuel. If we work together to join public and private sectors with the best interest of the public in mind, we can pioneer means for decoupling food prices from fuel prices. For more information on the subject of sustainability and how it impacts food and fuel, please visit the Food & Fuel for the 21st Century website.

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