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:


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


• 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


• CORE SCIENCE STANDARDS embodied in each unit

Segment 1

A short introduction to the twint issues of climate change and sustainable energy, and to program host, Richard Alley.

Segment 2

How we use energy today, and what sources we use, 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

How fossil fuels are made, and a comparison of how long it takes to store energy in coal, oil and natural gas (millions of years), with how fast we’re using them (hundreds of years.)

Segment 4

How the warming effects of carbon dioxide were studied by the US Air Force immediately after World War 2, and why the varying orbit of Earth around the Sun drove 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

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.

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.