Last episode we dug into the nexus between water and energy. This episode we’re diving into food. The connections are myriad.

Food itself is just a means of energy storage, and a particularly good one at that. While photosynthesis is remarkably inefficient—averaging only 0.3% globally, compared to 90% or more in an electric motor—it stores energy for weeks to years.

In the U.S. we use around 12% of our energy to produce food, in the form of inputs like diesel, fertilizer, and electricity. Meanwhile, the food system itself provides fuel to the rest of the energy system, through ethanol and other forms of bioenergy.

So how do all these things fit together? 

In this episode, Shayle talks to Dr. Michael Webber, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas–Austin, and chief technology officer at Energy Impact Partners, where Shayle is a partner. They cover topics like:

  • The Green revolution, which added more energy to food production, improving yields while reducing the amount of people required
  • The categories of energy consumption, such as fertilizers, on-site fuel, transportation, the cold chain and cooking
  • Food waste, which in the U.S. reaches about 30 – 50% of edible food
  • Why buying local is not necessarily good for the environment
  • Why we should not use food for fuel, unless it’s waste by-products from food production
  • How climate change affects the food system, for example by reducing the efficiency of photosynthesis and requiring more refrigeration to reduce spoilage
  • The viability of indoor agriculture

Recommended Resources:

  • Climavores: Bursting the ‘eat local’ bubble
  • Catalyst: The 3 pathways to alternative proteins
  • Catalyst: From biowaste to ​‘biogold’
  • Catalyst: How well does soil actually store carbon?

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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