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Human adaptations in food, energy, and water systems


  • Elena Irwin

    () (Ohio State University)

  • Joseph Campbell

    (Ohio State University)

  • Robyn Wilson

    (Ohio State University)

  • Alessandra Faggian

    (Ohio State University)

  • Richard Moore

    (Ohio State University)

  • Nicholas Irwin

    (Ohio State University)


Abstract The impacts of recent natural disasters highlight the hidden vulnerabilities in society’s food, energy, and water systems and the potential for climate change to amplify these social liabilities. Some have pointed to technological solutions to reduce vulnerabilities and to build resiliency into food, energy, and water systems (FEWS). While technological advances to upgrade human systems, e.g., in agriculture, urban planning, pollution abatement, and green energy development, are critical, these technical advances are insufficient on their own. Effective FEWS management depends on understanding human decision-making, including adaptations to new environmental, social, or economic changes and the responses of individuals and communities to new technologies intended to improve FEWS resilience and sustainability. This paper draws on multiple social science perspectives, including decision science, economics, and sociology, to consider the fundamental role that human behavior and adaptations play in FEWS. We discuss the importance of accounting for human behavior within a coupled human-natural systems framework in which a range of human adaptations and feedbacks are considered, including how humans might respond directly to press-pulse dynamics and indirectly through their adoption of new technology. Following a brief summary of key concepts of decision-making theory at individual and community scales, we then focus on migration and land use changes, the two types of human adaptations that are particularly important for FEWS modeling and management. The paper concludes with a discussion of key knowledge gaps and research needs in the social sciences related to human adaptations in the context of FEWS.

Suggested Citation

  • Elena Irwin & Joseph Campbell & Robyn Wilson & Alessandra Faggian & Richard Moore & Nicholas Irwin, 2016. "Human adaptations in food, energy, and water systems," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 6(1), pages 127-139, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:jenvss:v:6:y:2016:i:1:d:10.1007_s13412-016-0375-8
    DOI: 10.1007/s13412-016-0375-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

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