Bush School Researchers Report Public Opinion Findings on Water, Energy, and Food Issues

October 14, 2016



Water, energy and food (WEF) are three interconnected pillars of daily life. Energy cannot be produced without using water. Water cannot be provided without using energy. And food cannot be grown without energy and water.

A team of researchers from the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy (ISTPP) at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University have completed a first of its kind Water-Energy-Food Nexus Public Opinion Survey, revealing concerns about water, energy, and food issues; policy preferences; and personal behavioral changes involving water and energy.

“Water, energy, and food are highly integrated systems—movement or changes in one segment changes the others,” said Dr. Arnold Vedlitz, Bush School professor and former director of ISTPP. “Public policy makers are going to have to make decisions about the allocation of resources in a manner that recognizes and preserves this system. In order to help decision makers in making these decisions and for the public to accept these decisions, the public needs to know and understand what’s going on.”

The project was led by Kent Portney, a Bush School professor of public policy and an expert in environmental policy and sustainability, and Vedlitz, a professor of public policy and an expert in science and technology policy and natural resources management.

The scientific survey was conducted in August and collected responses from a representative sample at the national level, state level in Texas, and local level in Houston. The researchers found that the recognition of risks related to the WEF nexus and the desire to have the government and the private sector work together to find solutions was similar across many demographic and political groups in the US and Texas—with one exception.

“While party and ideology do not seem to drive the concern for water or energy or support for certain policies, there is a strong partisan divide when climate change gets introduced,” said Vedlitz. “When considering how climate change gets discussed and the roadblocks to enacting policy the climate change issue creates, it will be important to frame the discussion about the WEF nexus so that the divide that surrounds climate change is not passed on to the nexus issue.”

The survey was funded in part by the Texas A&M Area 41 Institute, an initiative created by Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp and intended to provide solutions to major issues faced by the state of Texas. The initiative provides research drawn from across various colleges and institutes within the Texas A&M System that can be used by decision makers trying to tackle issues related to transportation, water, energy, and healthcare.

Researchers from ISTPP who are working on this project, in addition to Vedlitz and Portney, include research scientist and assistant director Xingsheng Liu; postdoctoral research associate Bryce Hannibal; senior research associate Carol Goldsmith; and Peyton McGee, who is a graduate of the Bush School. Two other faculty members at the School, Dr. Ann Bowman and Dr. Justin Bullock, along with Dr. Manuel Teodoro, a faculty member with the Texas A&M Department of Political Science, are also members of the research team.

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