Segment 2
sites/default/files/Humans _Energy.mp4

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.

Annotated Script
Interactive version: panels 10-22
Downloadable PDF: pages 5-11

  • Students will identify the ways in which they rely on energy in their daily lives.
  • Students will describe what is meant by the phrase “carbon footprint.”
  • Students will calculate their household carbon footprint and examine the variables that contribute to the size of a household’s footprint.
  • Students will describe how their state or region is meeting its energy demand by using a portfolio of energy sources. 
  • Students will compare per capita energy use in America with that of other countries and describe why a growing global population needs more, clean energy. (See EXPAND/ADAPT/CONNECT).

Content in this segment integrates the following Disciplinary Core Ideas (related Performance Expectations follow)

Middle School Natural ResourcesHuman ImpactsGlobal Climate Change

High School     Natural ResourcesHuman ImpactsWeather and ClimateGlobal Climate Change

Natural Resources

  • Alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes. (MS-ESS3-1)
  • All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. (HS-ESS3-2)

Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (MSESS3-3, MS-ESS3-4)

Weather and Climate
Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate. (HS-ESS2-6, HS-ESS2-4)

Global Climate Change
Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and also reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (MS-ESS3-5)

Carbon dioxide, carbon footprint, coal, electrical generation, energy consumption, fossil fuels, per capita energy consumption

This video segment introduces students to society’s need for energy and describes how the developed world is meeting its energy demand by burning fossil fuels. One segment uses what it describes as a clearly old-fashioned 100 watt incandescent light bulb to provide a simple visual way to compare the energy use of a simple society (just a few bulbs) to that of North America—100 bulbs.
Prior to viewing this segment, invite students to consider how they use/rely on energy in their daily life. This could be as simple as hosting a class discussion or it could mean asking students to reflect on this question through a journaling or collage activity.
Show the video segment and invite students to respond to the clip and to revisit their responses to the engagement activity. The goal is to have students realize that in addition to directly using energy through driving a car or turning on a light switch, the products they encounter in daily life also require energy to be manufactured, transported, etc. For example, students may not see the glass of orange juice they drank before school as using energy—but it took energy to grow the oranges, make the juice, package and transport the juice etc. Currently, the life cycle of most consumer products is powered by fossil fuels, although—increasingly—it does not have to be that way, either in the USA or worldwide: see the Denmark/Texas sequence in program 2, “Yes, In My BackYard.” Globally, as more people seek to live an American life style, the demand for energy will increase and thus the need for clean energy is more important than ever.

1) CONCEPT: A variety of energy sources are used to provide energy to a growing population; currently much of our energy comes from non-renewable fossil fuels


This tool (although somewhat dated) enables teachers and students to quickly get a sense of the types of energy source used in their state to generate electricity. Students can even compare the fuel mix profile for different states (e.g., Washington relies heavily on hydroelectric power, while North Carolina relies heavily on coal and nuclear energy).

The tool above is for electricity only; a more detailed and more current analysis of your state’s energy consumption can be found on the Energy Information Administration’s, Electricity Data Browser, These data are updated each month; annual, quarterly and monthly data are available from 2001-2011. All images and datasets are available for download. Furthermore, data sets can be filtered by fuel type, geographic region or state, or energy sector, enabling you to customize data sets and graphs for your state or region. For example, data and corresponding graphs can be generated to answer a variety of questions such as:

How much of my state’s electricity generation comes from coal? Natural gas? How does my state’s consumption of coal compare the US as a whole? How has my state’s consumption of natural gas changed since 2001? Which region of the US is generating the most electricity from natural gas?

2) CONCEPT: Burning fossil fuels results in carbon dioxide emissions. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted from burning coal depends on the prevalence of coal in your region’s fuel mix (which you can determine from the website above or from the EPA’s Power Profiler:

(This is a worksheet created by a NC educator, but it can easily be updated or customized to your region by using the local utility rates found here:

This worksheet enables students to use a Kill-a-Watt device (which can be purchased from Amazon or other retailers for ~$20-25) to measure electrical consumption of an appliance over time or students can use the cards that accompany the worksheet.Students calculate (or are given) the average annual energy consumption of an appliance and then calculate the average annual cost to run the appliance given local utility rates, the amount of coal needed to run that appliance for a year, and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from running that appliance. The worksheet also ask students to consider the emissions of other harmful pollutants (like mercury and sulfur dioxide).

This activity incorporates math into the discussion of the consumption of electricity by an everyday appliance such as a computer or TV, the coal required to run that appliance for a year, and amount of carbon dioxide emitted.  Students are encouraged to consider ways to reduce the energy consumption of the appliance they investigate.  This activity is a good one to conduct in preparation for asking students to calculate their household carbon footprint.

3) CONCEPT: Carbon footprint analysis is used to determine how much carbon dioxide emissions are associated with your actions/lifestyle.


This carbon calculator from the EPA can be used to estimate a student’s total household emissions (carbon footprint).  Students need to either acquire household data pertaining to energy use (e.g., electric bills) or representative data provided by the teacher (this approach is helpful for students who rent or who are in public housing and don’t have access to utility bills).

This activity can be completed as a homework assignment and can invite parental involvement. By having students compare their carbon footprint with one another, students explore the variables that influence size of a household’s carbon footprint.  The limitations of this carbon calculator can also be discussed (e.g., air travel is not factored into emissions).

This segment could further be expanded by asking students to investigate how per capita energy use in the United States (seen in the video segment in the light bulb “infographic”) compares to that of other countries and to describe why a growing global population needs more, clean energy.
According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2011, total energy use per person (or per capita consumption) in the U.S. was 312 million British thermal units (Btu). The world per capita consumption of energy in 2009 was 71 million Btu (excluding wood and charcoal used for heating and cooking). To see how America compares to other countries, both developed and developing, ask students to conduct research to find comparisons of per capita energy consumption and to identify the predominant energy sources used by other countries. Direct students to one or more of the following websites:


Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-4: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.


Earth and Human Activity
HSESSE3-2*: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

 *Traditional science content is integrated with engineering through a Practice or Disciplinary Core Idea.



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