Students will be able to:
- summarize the environmental impact of obtaining and using fossil fuels.
- recommend solutions for reducing use of fossil fuels.
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The problems with using fossil fuels starts with extraction. In this activity, students "mine" chocolate chips out of cookies to demonstrate the effects mining can have on habitats.
Students will be able to:
Teacher tip: Start this activity by making sure students have washed their hands. They will have the option to eat their cookies later.
Teacher tip: Let your students eat their cookies during the wrap-up!
For a more comprehensive unit on fossil fuels, follow this activity with Fossil Fuels: Air Pollution and the Greenhouse Effect.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas present environmental problems starting with their extraction and going all the way through to their use. They are all different in their properties and uses, but they have some similarities. Fossil fuels all come from fossilized plant or animal material and are all nonrenewable resources; they take millions of years to form and do not regenerate on the timescale of a human life. All fossil fuels go through similar processes on their path from being extracted from the ground to serving as fuels for human beings.
We use fossil fuels for most of our energy needs today. Coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012, and they meet 82% of U.S. energy demand (Worldwatch Institute, 2013; Institute for Energy Research, 2014).
Mining is the process of extracting coal, oil, and natural gas from the ground. Strip mining (also known as open cast, mountaintop, or surface mining) involves scraping away earth and rocks to get to coal buried near the surface (Greenpeace, 2010). This often has significant impact on the surrounding land, plants, and animals. As plants and topsoil are removed from an area, it destroys landscapes and wildlife habitats. Soil erosion follows, leading to destruction of agricultural land. As topsoil is disturbed, sediments wash into waterways, damaging fish habitats and causing changes to river channels which lead to flooding. There is an increased risk of chemical contamination of ground water when minerals in upturned earth seep into the water table, and watersheds are destroyed when disfigured land loses the water it once held.
Besides providing energy, coal mining, including strip mining, provides jobs and revenue. Coal is mined in over 50 countries, employing approximately seven million people worldwide (World Coal Association, 2015). Large mines are often the largest source of jobs and income for some communities. For example, coal mining in the Appalachians is one of the main sources of income in rural West Virginia. Over six thousand residents are employed as coal miners, and thousands more are indirectly employed because of the coal industry (National Mining Association, 2015). When we face sustainability issues, it is important to also bear in mind the economic factors at hand.
As global supplies of cheap fossil fuels steadily decline and fossil fuel related greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, energy conservation is becoming a critical topic of discussion. Climate change is an important reason for people to reduce their fossil fuel consumption via conservation, efficiency measures, and switching to renewable energy sources.
Some of these technologies include: wind energy, biomass energy, carbon capture and underground storage, methane capture and use, geothermal energy, energy-efficient buildings and solar energy. These technologies are explained in detail here.
Science and Engineering Practices
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