, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 251–263 | Cite as

The U.S. food–energy–water system: A blueprint to fill the mesoscale gap for science and decision-making

  • Christopher LantEmail author
  • Jacopo Baggio
  • Megan Konar
  • Alfonso Mejia
  • Benjamin Ruddell
  • Richard Rushforth
  • John L. Sabo
  • Tara J. Troy


Food, energy, and water (FEW) are interdependent and must be examined as a coupled natural–human system. This perspective essay defines FEW systems and outlines key findings about them as a blueprint for future models to satisfy six key objectives. The first three focus on linking the FEW production and consumption to impacts on Earth cycles in a spatially specific manner in order to diagnose problems and identify potential solutions. The second three focus on describing the evolution of FEW systems to identify risks, thus empowering the FEW actors to better achieve the goals of resilience and sustainability. Four key findings about the FEW systems that guide future model development are (1) that they engage ecological, carbon, water, and nutrient cycles most powerfully among all human systems; (2) that they operate primarily at a mesoscale best captured by counties, districts, and cities; (3) that cities are hubs within the FEW system; and (4) that the FEW system forms a complex network.


Environmental footprints Food–energy–water nexus Network analysis Urban ecology 



This article is based upon research supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1639529. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environment and Society, Quinney College of Natural ResourcesUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Faculty of the School of Informatics and Cyber SystemsNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  5. 5.School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber SystemsNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  6. 6.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  7. 7.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringLehigh UniversityBethlehemUSA

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