For Educators

If you haven't already done so, it's worth taking the time to preview the entire hour-long video before diving into activities related to each individual clip. This will provide the larger context for the following video-related lessons, which can conveniently be woven into a longer unit, or be sampled individually once you've identified the science standards and scope of content you'd like to achieve with your students.

Make sure to download each high resolution segment so that you have them archived for later use. The downloadable segments contain closed captions which can be turned on and off using controls in the Quicktime player: you may find that all students benefit from seeing the captions, not just those for whom English is a second language, or those whose hearing is impaired.

 

Once teachers REGISTER (for free) they will be able to download higher resolution files, suitable for large screen display.

Please also note that several of these activities have been reviewed as part of the CLEAN project, as indicated by this logo. You can find comments by scientists and your fellow educators at the CLEAN site.
Each unit contains the following elements:

• VIDEO SUMMARY

• ANNOTATED SCRIPT page numbers, providing the exact language of the video segment and links to additional resources

• LEARNING OBJECTIVES

• VOCABULARY, with definitions in theonline GLOSSARY

• TEACHER TIPS, including discussion questions to use before screening the clip

• SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES and grade ranges, with required resources

• EXPAND/ADAPT/CONNECT

• CORE SCIENCE STANDARDS embodied in each unit

Segment 1

The first sequence of the 3-hour series introduces some unexpected characters and places, presenting what our host, geoscientist Richard Alley, calls the “twin stories of climate and energy.” We meet Annise Parker, the Democratic Mayor of Houston TX (re-elected since this program first appeared on PBS on Earth Day 2011) and David Titley, a Navy Rear admiral, interviewed in dress whites in the Naval Observatory in Washington DC. Scenes from around the planet show many different kinds of energy usage (cars, trucks, lighting) and the many different kinds of energy resources (wind, solar, gasoline, biomass, waves/tidal.) Richard Alley introduces himself as the on-camera host, in scenes from the filming of the project—in a helicopter above the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, and striding across the dunes near Yuma, Arizona. He reveals some of his personal history, and his hopes for the futures of his daughters and his students at Penn State, where he teaches. Those hopes rely on smart choices about energy, which can result in reducing adverse impacts on Earth’s climate. And that’s exactly what the remainder of the first program, and the next two episodes, deal with in greater detail.


Segment 2

This video segment summarizes how we use energy today, what sources we exploit, and why—in the future—a growing population needs more, clean energy. Included are case studies of a Brazilian family living off the grid (like 1.5 billion world-wide), how rapidly-urbanizing China needs more energy to fuel development, and a population/energy use chart comparing North Americans to other regions of Earth.


Segment 3

This video segment summarizes how fossil fuels are made, provides a comparison of how long it takes to store energy in coal, oil and natural gas (millions of years), and discusses how fast we’re using them (hundreds of years.)  Richard Alley travels through the bayous of Louisiana to see how fossil fuels are formed and why they are ultimately unsustainable.


Segment 4

This segment describes how the warming effects of carbon dioxide (aka it’s “radiative properties”) were studied by the US Air Force immediately after World War 2, and why the varying orbit of Earth around the Sun drives the cycle of the Ice Ages. Alley demonstrates, through the history of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, that orbital variations (aka “natural variation”) alone did not make things cooler or warmer: that took the feedback effect of falling and rising levels of CO2.


Segment 5

Studying ice cores at the National Ice Core Lab, Alley shows how ancient ice contains records of Earth’s past climate. Over 400,000 years, and even longer, levels of carbon dioxide have risen and fallen from about 180 parts per million to 280, varying from colder in the Ice Ages to warmer in interglacial periods. Today, however, for the first time in more than 400,000 years, CO2 is at 390 parts per million and continuing to rise at 2 parts per million (ppm) per year. Alley relates the onset of this change to the Industrial Revolution.

 


Segment 6

How do we know that today’s levels of CO2 are caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and not by some natural process, such as volcanic outgassing? In a closely-argued, step-by-step explanation, Richard shows that by using physics and chemistry we can analyze the “flavors” (isotopes) of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere to detect the clear signature of humans burning fossil fuels rather than the increase being the result of purely natural causes.


Segment 7

In 2010, for the first time, the Pentagon focused on climate change as a significant factor in its Quadrennial Defense Review of potential risks and strategic responses. Rear Admiral David Titley, Oceanographer of the Navy, explains why the US military sees clear evidence of climate change, and how those changes will affect future military and humanitarian missions. (See also the full transcript of his Interview.) Of particular note is the likely impact of sea level rise on naval facilities which are, of course, primarily on coasts. Titley argues that earth and physical science offer useful projections of future climate that we can use to make sound decisions.


Segment 8

Video summary: The US military is the single largest user of energy in the nation, but it’s also trying to reduce its “carbon bootprint.” Scenes taped at Fort Irwin and Camp Pendleton show the Army and Marines experimenting with wind and solar in order to reduce the number of fuel convoys that are vulnerable to attack. Solar panels on tents, efficient LEDs, and water purification techniques can save both lives and money. Overall the military has ambitious goals to increase energy independence. And with hybrid-drive ships such as the USS MAKIN ISLAND and biofuel-powered planes, it’s showing that renewable energy can both be practical and be spun off from military innovations into civilian life. 

 

(A bonus video looks in greater detail at how Fort Irwin, CA, is attempting to generate energy from trash: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_evUHamx7Gc)


Segment 9

Just how much energy can Sun, hydropower, biomass and geothermal offer? This segment sets a target of seeing whether, in principle, renewable energy resources could meet today’s global energy needs of about 15.7 terawatts, described by Richard and illustrated on camera as the equivalent of 157 billion 100 watt light bulbs. Starting in the deserts of America’s Southwest, one of the sunniest places in the world, we travel to Spain, Brazil and New Zealand putting numbers on the potential of some of the most promising, non-CO2 emitting renewables: solar, hydro-power, biomass and geothermal.
The pros and cons of each energy source are cited, and the Annotated Script provides several links to find out more. Richard points out that today’s technologies have begun the long process of harvesting this vast renewable potential in ways that are already—or soon will be—economical and technologically adequate. Looking at a giant Concentrated Solar Thermal plant in Spain, soon able to supply the entire power needs of the nearby city of Seville, and the long transmission lines taking power from the huge Itaipu Dam to one of Brazil’s largest cities, he says we’ve already made a start.
 


Segment 10

West Texas sits at the bottom of a wind corridor than runs through the Great Plains and on up into Canada. Here some of the largest wind farms in the nation have brought jobs to local communities that missed out of the oil boom, and generate more electricity than in the next three wind-producing states combined. The mayor of Sweetwater and a local rancher describe in down-home and memorable ways how wind has benefited their communities. Annise Parker, mayor of Houston, #1 municipal purchaser of renewable energy in America, explains why her city is committed to energy efficiency and to supporting an infrastructure for electric vehicles.
At the end of this clip, embodying the philosophy of the entire project, Richard Alley concludes by saying that energy efficiency worldwide could reduce demand by fully one third by 2030, and that renewables are a win-win-win for all, by avoiding climate catastrophes, generating jobs, and improving energy security.


Segment 1

The tease introduces the key themes of POWERING THE PLANET: that Earth’s population is increasing, and that a growing population will inevitably require more energy. But potentially adverse changes in Earth’s climate (as seen in the first program) mean that increasingly that energy must be clean and renewable energy, and less of the planet’s energy system can be the dirty and polluting resources we’ve relied on till now. Program 2 brings these themes to life by visiting Spain, Morocco, China, Denmark, and Texas and travels back in time, to Edinburgh, Scotland. We meet Denmark’s then-Minister for the Environment and Soren Hermansen of Samso Island, whose community is committed to being free of fossil fuels by 2020, by relying on wind energy and district heating using biomass. A former oilman, John Hofmeister, says that the United States needs to make some of the hard decisions on long-term energy policies that other nations, including Denmark and even China, are making. Richard Alley closes the sequence in this series’ trademark and upbeat approach, saying “…I’m optimistic we can get to a world with more people living better, while using cleaner and more sustainable energy.”
 


Segment 2

Of all the planet’s renewable energy sources, the biggest and most promising is the Sun. But, the idea of concentrated solar power is 100 years old. This clip takes a look at solar power, from a prototype solar farm developed in the early 20th century by American inventor, Frank Shuman, to the revolutionary implications of the massive Desertec project underway in the Sahara. Government support and far-reaching infrastructure are necessary to bring the vast potential of the Sun down to Earth, generating electricity as well as income.


Segment 3

Biomass – plants harvesting sunlight through photosynthesis – has significant potential for human energy usage, as Brazil has demonstrated through its decades-long commitment to biofuel, specifically, ethanol made from sugar cane. A case study of how gas shortages in the 1970s led that country’s government, then a military dictatorship, to transform abundant Sun, rain and sugar cane into efficient, sustainable ethanol as a home-grown alternative to imported gasoline. The role of governments in developing and supporting innovative technologies, and a nation’s decision to put its unique capabilities and natural resources to work, are also addressed.
 


Segment 4

While the NIMBY (“Not In My BackYard”) challenge has hindered many renewable energy projects, two seemingly different communities – the island of Samsø, Denmark, and the vast, dry expanse of West Texas – exemplify the importance, and the benefits, of bringing sustainability home. This video segment interweaves stories of a Dane and a Texan who convinced their neighbors to harness the wind and rebuild their communities. Samsø now produces so much wind energy that, at times, it exports its surplus to the Danish mainland, and serves as a proof of concept for how to transition from fossil fuels; and Texas wind produces as much power as the next three U.S. states combined. (See also ETOM program 1, “Renewables Roundup.”)


Segment 5

In this video segment, Richard Alley explains, via his computer graphics avatar, that the Earth’s climate system is usually well behaved, with natural variability as revealed in ice core data from the past 400,000 years. As our planet orbits around the Sun, levels of heat-trapping gases rise and fall, leading to regular temperature fluctuations as we cycle from 180 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere (during an ice age) to 280 parts per million (in a warmer interglacial period. Graphics illustrating this can also be found in the ETOM program 1 video, “CO2 in the Atmosphere”). Alley’s avatar goes for a ride on this hilly “climate roller coaster.” But sometimes the Earth experiences abrupt climate shifts known as “tipping points,” when the roller coaster comes off its rails—which Alley vividly illustrates by bungy-jumping off a bridge. Such a dramatic change could be catastrophic for humans, and it is possible that by continuing to burn fossil fuels and put CO2 into the atmosphere we are pushing ourselves toward a dangerous edge.


Segment 6

In 2010, China invested more in renewable energy than any other nation on Earth. However, it is also the world’s largest coal producer and user, with coal energy, or thermal power, making up three-quarters of its electricity supply. Worldwide, the burning of coal creates one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Can coal – a mighty force in the global energy equation – ever be “clean”? Industry experts in China and the U.S. discuss China’s full-throttle approach to developing clean coal technology and other sustainable energy solutions. A look at a pioneering carbon sequestration technology for use at older power plants and exclusive footage from GreenGen, a new facility that is the world’s most advanced low-carbon emissions power generation plant. Both illustrate China’s plan to become the “new empire of clean tech.”


Segment 7

Can we afford to make the kinds of changes required for a cleaner, sustainable energy future? Actually, we (our ancestors) have done it before. To explain, Richard Alley time-travels back to 1754 for a stroll through Edinburgh, Scotland, prior to the invention of indoor plumbing. In Edinburgh, as in many big cities a few hundred years ago, chamber pots were emptied into the streets every evening. A 19th-century revolution in sanitation changed all that, but today we are pouring another kind of human waste into the public space in the form of CO2 from burning fossil fuel. It took about one percent of the world economy to develop an infrastructure for indoor plumbing; that’s roughly the cost of a cleaner energy system.


Segment 8

In America, energy policies change with each new administration, if not even more frequently. But a successful energy policy requires long-term, strategic planning that is independent of politics. Says John Hofmeister, former head of U.S. Shell: “You need to think of energy in a fifty-year timeframe, and our elected officials are thinking of energy in two-year election cycles.” While other nations, like China and Denmark, are demonstrating that old energies can be cleaned up and new technologies implemented with smart choices and cross-party commitment, the U.S. lags behind. Large-scale innovations like the electrification program of the 1930s and the building of the interstate highway system suggest that, if the government makes good decisions now, we can change our ways and avoid falling into the “energy abyss.”


Segment 9

Even without a national energy policy, some communities across the U.S. are reducing their carbon footprint through local efforts. In rural Alaska, biomass boilers are a boon to regional economies, cutting the cost of shipping in diesel, and boosting local employment. In urban Baltimore, Maryland, grassroots energy efficiency programs are positively affecting both energy usage and citizens’ wallets. And Kansas’ Climate+Energy Project – putting the “conserve” back into “conservative” in America’s heartland – has used federal stimulus dollars to fund an energy-saving competition between communities. Efficiency has the potential to cover up to a quarter of the nation’s energy needs by 2030. Even so, Richard Alley reminds us, it will take a sustained national effort and the support of national infrastructure for the U.S. to follow the lead of Brazil and China and achieve a cleaner energy future.


Segment 1

America has always relied on energy to power its growth, but the sources of our energy have changed over time, and continue to change today. This introductory sequence teases (to use TV jargon) upcoming scenes, including those showing what happened when we relied first on wood and then on whale oil, before the discovery of “rock oil” and the use of coal and—increasingly—natural gas. We meet three of America’s leading energy experts (David Crane, NRG Energy; Shirley Jackson, President of RPI; and Daniel Yergin, author of THE PRIZE and THE QUEST) who return throughout the program. We also see scenes of the 5 very different communities featured: the states of Alaska (in both summer and deep mid-winter) and Kansas, plus the cities of Fort Worth, Baltimore and Portland, Oregon. Both Democratic and Republican politicians appear, arguing for the use of more local, renewable and sustainable energy resources, and both Richard Alley and Nancy Jackson connect climate to our choices about energy, one of the over-arching themes of the entire series.
 


Segment 2

Alaska is an oil and gas state associated with the “Drill, baby, drill” attitude. But the reality on the ground reveals something different: that citizens, the business community and local government are making smart energy choices based on economics and the environment. Comments from Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, and members of the Native Alaskan community of Tanana, as well as scenes on Kodiak Island, powered almost entirely by hydro and wind. The resort community of Chena Hot Springs is seen in cold mid-winter, with its greenhouse powered by geothermal energy and tomatoes growing under LED lights.
 


Segment 3

In this video segment, Richard Alley collects driftwood and makes a small campfire on a beach in Hawaii. Dead trees powered the growth of America and its first industrial revolution. But in a pattern that was repeated, some regions—including Alley’s home state of Pennsylvania—exploited the resource until there was almost no forest left. Computer graphics show how iron forges and the charcoal kilns that supplied them with fuel impacted the state, replacing forests with towns named after all the many “Forges” and “Furnaces.” But then a cleaner burning fuel appeared, offering better light for reading: whale oil. However, the pattern of using a resource until it was almost completely used up was repeated. By the mid-1800’s, all the “easy” whales off America’s East Coast had been hunted to near extinction: whaling crews now had to travel to Earth’s Poles to find their prey, where conditions were dangerous, lives were lost, and whale oil peaked in price.
 
Alley asks, and this set of activities encourages students to consider, do we want to repeat that pattern with “hunting” all the oil, coal and tar sands left on Earth, or is it possible to exploit today's new and cleaner-burning resources—such as, in the United States, natural gas from shale oil—in a more sustainable way? Do other options (wind and solar, for example) offer better solutions?
 


Segment 4

Shale gas, a natural gas found in underground shale formations, has become an increasingly more utilized energy source, accounting for 1% of U.S. natural gas production in 2000, more than 20% in 2010 and predicted to reach almost 50% by 2035. Its proponents say it is abundant, domestic and cleaner than other fossil fuels. But the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to extract the trapped gas has met with public concern over potential environmental impact, including depletion and contamination of water resources, spills, air quality and health effects. Fort Worth, Texas, sits atop the Barnett Shale rock formation and is a fracking boomtown with a growing population fueled in large part by the gas boom. Local leaders say they have also made significant investments in sustainability to solve increasing demands on infrastructure and natural resources, such as potable water, to support the growing population. Mayor Betsy Price and other local leaders discuss both sides of the natural gas debate, as well as their efforts to conserve water in this drought-ridden region. Fort Worth is presented as a microcosm of the tough choices America must face as it balances its energy choices against the risks and costs that come with every form of energy.
 


Segment 5

Though Baltimore MD and the state of Kansas look very different, they're both using friendly competition between cities and neighborhoods to help reduce energy use - and they've both been successful! So ETOM is offering the same menu of activities, and NGSS correlations, for both video segments, 3.5 and 4.6
 

Conservation is sometimes called “the fifth fuel,” a clean and cost-effective way to make the most of our existing energy sources. Some estimates suggest that innovations in energy efficiency have the potential to save $700 billion in the U.S. alone. The key to tapping this potential, illustrated by the 2011 “Take Charge! Challenge” in Kansas, is motivating people to rethink their energy consumption in homes and businesses, breaking energy-hogging habits and adopting more sustainable ones. Footage from the “Take Charge! Challenge” (their punctuation) competition shows 16 communities reducing their carbon footprint for a chance to win cash prizes, and having fun while doing it.


Segment 6

Though Baltimore MD and the state of Kansas look very different, they're both using friendly competition between cities and neighborhoods to help reduce energy use - and they've both been successful! So ETOM is offering the same menu of activities, and NGSS correlations, for both video segments, 3.5 and 4.6
 
“Conservation in a Big City” shows how what might at first seem like small and individual actions can add up to have a big impact on the health of a large urban community, as they have done in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, local government, utilities and neighborhood “Energy Captains” have joined forces to educate citizens about simple ways, like weather-stripping and reducing water use, to save energy and lower their utility bills. (In one low-income neighborhood, conservation helped homeowners save as much as $1,300 per year.) As a result, the entire city—America’s 21st largest—is on track to cut its carbon emissions and energy usage by 15% by 2015, eliminating the need for a new power plant.
How can we examine our own energy usage in an attempt to reduce the amount of energy we consume and increase the amount of money we can save?
 


Segment 7

A look at how one city, Portland, Oregon, bucked the trend of urban sprawl with smart planning decisions that have made it one of America’s greenest and most livable places. Congressman Earl Blumenauer explains that decisive action three decades ago, such as trading highway funds for bikeways and mass transit, stimulated a thriving sustainability-based economy. At a time when 70% of all the oil consumed in America goes to transportation, Portland’s vibrant cycling community puts bikes to work and cuts back on car trips, and its extensive, electrified mass transit network reduces congestion, an example with lessons for the entire nation.

Can urban planning, investing in mass transit and alternative transportation help other cities improve air quality and decrease carbon footprints? Portland and several other US cities demonstrate that you can build healthy communities with a reduced resource footprint. But that’s something that requires political will, as well as the application of science and engineering.


Segment 8

This sequence echoes the name of the series and the entire NSF-supported project by encouraging viewers to think of themselves as “operators” of America’s energy system, and therefore able to make choices that can lead to positive outcomes. Host Richard Alley re-introduces himself by being seen in the many different locations we’ve visited in the course of the series, riding his bike at Penn State, walking over the ice on a glacier, and amid the bustling, energy-intense streets of New York City. Using the visual metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle made up of what geoscience tells us for sure about Earth’s climate system, he argues that a few uncertain pieces don’t detract from what we can see as the big picture: burning fossil fuels is adding CO2 to the atmosphere and that, in turn, is negatively impacting climate. Other voices agree: Shirley Jackson says that increased energy security and a cleaner environment both argue for greater reliance on renewables. David Crane says if America is “exceptional”, then it should lead and not wait for other nations. Nancy Jackson also urges action rather than fruitless debate, saying, “At the end of the day the atmosphere doesn’t care one whit what people think. The atmosphere cares what people do.”