Global Sustainability Symposium prompts discussion and action

How much water does it take to drive your car for one mile? How much energy was used to make your bottle of water?

This is not how we typically think about our water and energy use, but perhaps we should.

Thirteen percent of U.S. electricity is used in the transport, treatment and heating of water for everything from providing your eight cups a day, to growing crops, to flushing toilets.

On the other side of the equation, energy production worldwide requires a substantial amount of water , second only to agriculture.

In the U.S., coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy production accounts for 39 percent of all freshwater withdrawals.

Natural gas production methods such as fracking can use up to 144 million gallons of water per fracking well — equivalent to more than 200 Olympic-size swimming pools. There are half a million active wells in the U.S. alone.

UNC recognizes the importance of this connection between water and energy. This week, leaders from across the University have come together with global experts, businesses, civic leaders and students to examine the water-energy nexus at the Global Sustainability Symposium, “Water and Energy in the Crosshairs.”

Jessica Thomas, managing director of the Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise, said the goal of the conference is to support UNC’s mission of improving society and solving global problems.

Given its expertise in both fields, UNC is an ideal venue to stimulate discussion about the water-energy nexus and drive the movement forward.

Felix Dodds, a key player in the Rio 20 Conference on Sustainable Development, was on campus this week as a guest lecturer in the water theme’s featured course.

Dodds is confident in UNC’s potential to be a leader in the field, noting individuals such as Jamie Bartram, director of the UNC Water Institute, who was also the chairman of UN-Water.

“The water space here is one to build on, and there’s also an energy space here,” Dodds said.

As long as water and energy remain cheap and seem abundant, the two resources and their intersection will be largely ignored. But a population growing in size and wealth places pressure on our increasingly vulnerable water and energy supplies.

By the way, it takes equal amounts of energy and water to drive that mile as it does to make that bottle of water.

Thanks for reading.

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