12 in 2012: Food, Water and Energy Trends for a New Year

2012 may be the most heavily-predicted year in recorded history.

Barring any cataclysmic events, we at Ecocentric would like to share a humble list of predicted trends for 2012 in the areas we follow closely: namely, Food, Water and Energy (Fwenergy, if you will). And while there are no doomsday scenarios, not everything looks rosy for 2012.

That being said, here are 12 trends we see in '12 (with baker’s dozen megatrend thrown in for good luck):

Food

1.   Embrace your inner wonk, because 2012 is certain to be a big year for food policy. The farm bill, of course, will dominate the attention of sustainable food/ag advocates everywhere, but keep an eye out for major efforts to promote progressive legislation about other key issues as well (e.g., eliminating nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, implementing prudent policy approaches to genetically engineered foods and banning arsenic from chicken feed).

2.   We've written before about greenwashing, a trend that will undoubtedly grow increasingly prominent this year.  Be aware of two main greenwashing approaches: 1 ) Big Ag portrays itself as “efficient,” arguing that it uses resources more effectively, and therefore has a smaller environmental footprint than sustainable farms (we debunk this here and here); and 2 ) Big Ag’s PR/marketing departments spin industry’s trivial efforts to slightly improve its lamentable practices as monumental victories in the campaign for sustainability (we debunk this here).

3.   Urban food/agriculture issues are hot! And not just among hipsters who buy $37 bowls of bacon-infused oatmeal from the tight-pantsed, bearded man in the artisanal breakfast food truck trolling the streets of [insert trendy neighborhood here]. Look for more urban farms, in backyards, on rooftops and in reclaimed spaces; note monumental efforts to promote food justice and creative approachesto addressing food insecurity; witness the promotion of sustainable urban agriculture by city governments, which are beginning to hire food/agriculture coordinators, building markets for sustainable foods and endeavoring to eliminate the red tape around urban farming.

4.   Among the challenges facing sustainable farmers is the difficulty of accessing markets. In 2012, expect a continuation of the efforts to rebuild distribution infrastructure for sustainable agriculture –  rather than relying on large capital investments, these distribution solutions are likely to involve innovation and/or clever application of technology (see food hubs, CSA software, efficient transportation methods, technological innovators, etc.).

Water

5.   If 2011 was the year that fracking entered the U.S. mainstream, then 2012 will be the one that determines its fate, or more aptly its regulations, especially regarding water issues. That’s because the EPA’s highly anticipated preliminary Hydraulic Fracturing study will be released, inevitably making major waves.

6.   Look for the continued attacks on the Clean Water Act from the 112th Congress as well as the continued push back to maintain strong water protection rules from the likes of NRDC and Riverkeeper, among many others.

7.   Water-related risks will increasingly be factored into the decision-making process by businesses and investors. Whether it is a small business evaluating their operational water use or a global corporation scrutinizing all their supply chains, the objective is always to ensure that they have adequate freshwater to meet their needs. (With a big role for water footprint assessments!)

8.   Greater awareness of worldwide groundwater depletion will be raised as the winning project of the HeadsUP groundwater data visualization contest sees their work prominently displayed in Times' Square, just as the groundwater crisis is featured in the upcoming water documentary, Last Call at the Oasis.

Energy

9.   With state and federal hearings, expect debate over the Indian Point nuclear power plant – the flagship of the nation’s nuclear fleet – to heat up considerably, and to hear a lot from Riverkeeper, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Many agree that the beleaguered plant’s power can be replaced.

10.   Forget US corn and Brazilian sugarcane, biofuels are moving east. The new sources will be palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, cassava from Thailand or Vietnam, and Indian sugarcane. Not good news for Asian ecosystems or food supplies.

11.   Unless big improvements are made to last year’s weak draft rule on power plant fish kills, it looks like the EPA is going to leave it to the already overburdened state agencies to reign in the damage to the nation’s rivers, lakes and estuaries caused by power plants.

12.   With federal aid for renewable energy dropping, support for clean power will be driven by the states through policies and clean energy funds.

Baker’s Dozen Megatrend

The buzz around the Food-Water-Energy Nexus is growing as the world gets more complex and interconnected. Integrated thinking and ways forward are offered by three experts in this blog post from the Nexus-themed Bonn2011 Conferenceblog. (Note that one of the experts is our own Water and Energy Director, Kyle Rabin.)

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