In the first half of 2020, we are experiencing global health and socioeconomic disruption unlike anything observed in the past century. The COVID-19 pandemic has led state and local governments to issue and modify stay-at-home orders and guidance that leaves millions of Americans without work. The global health community is working tirelessly to understand and predict viral spread, understand the risk factors for disease severity, educate the public, and evaluate how effective coronavirus policies across countries are in controlling the spread. As we begin to understand the short and long-term residual implications of the disease itself, unprecedented pressure on supply chains and unique resource management challenges are also coming to light. Moving forward, evaluation of the potential trade-offs of health and economic policy measures requires concerted interdisciplinary research efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to explore the interconnections between food, energy, and water systems in real time. The FEW nexus is a research paradigm that recognizes interdependencies between food production, energy generation, and water supply: water and energy are needed to grow and transport food; cultivated biomass, waste, and water are used to produce energy; and energy is needed to process and store clean water and safe foods. First presented at the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, the FEW nexus is now broadly accepted as an interdisciplinary framework for addressing resource and environmental health challenges. Most nexus research has focused on long-term challenges, for example infrastructure development or climate change adaptation. Typically, large integrated assessment models or life-cycle analysis techniques are used to evaluate specific technologies like biofuels. These approaches must be improved to address long-term global supply and demand challenges for natural resources because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, we overview key changes in resource usage, food supply, and water quality concerns in the U.S. and California over the first few months of the pandemic.