Energy and a Sustainable Future

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This video was excerpted from After the Frack by Mary Fecteau.

"You can't win; you are sure to lose; and you can't get out of the game."---Garrett Hardin, Filters Against Folly: How to Survive Despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent

While we look for renewable and cleaner supplies of energy, we must acknowledge that humans have created a world that relies on vast amounts of non-renewable energy every day. If humans want to continue living on Earth, issues of energy production and consumption must be addressed today and into the future. In less than 200 years humans have extracted an incredible amount of coal, oil, and gas from the ground to feed our energy hunger. Earth’s non-renewable resources are finite and dwindling. The burning of fossil fuels produces more carbon dioxide emissions than the planet’s natural systems are capable of recycling. Of the fossil fuels, natural gas is the cleanest to burn, and fracking may provide a bridge to the future until cleaner energies are more efficient and affordable. That bridge, however, may be very fragile and risky to travel unless critical decisions are made about our use of energy.

This video is part of a five-part educational series called Challenges of Non-Renewable Energy.


Pre-viewing Questions

  • "Reduce, reuse, recycle." Give examples of how one or more of these ideas can be applied to the issues and practices of hydraulic fracturing for the acquisition of shale gas.
  • If the United States is going to rely on shale gas reserves for energy in the future, what strategies would you like to see put in place to diminish the negative impact on Earth’s ecosystems?
  • "Not in my backyard" is a saying used to describe practices that are good as long as people are not negatively impacted locally. But what if you consider the entire Earth to be your “backyard”? Do you think you would support the continued extraction of fossil fuels from Earth’s crust? What tradeoffs do you think are most important in order to increase the country’s domestic supplies of energy?

Focus Questions for Viewing

  • If every by-product of fracking could be repurposed for other applications, what current major dilemmas could be resolved?
  • If injection wells could be eliminated completely without disrupting the flow of natural gas energy, what could that mean for the future of people and living things on Earth?
  • Sometimes scientists say that parts of systems are “coupled.” If a toxic-water spill or injection-well failure occurred, what other parts of living systems could be disrupted or damaged?

Post-viewing Questions

  • What do you believe is the most dangerous problem associated with obtaining energy reserves that have been untapped for millions of years?
  • What personal daily activities would you be willing to reduce or eliminate if it meant that our energy supplies would last longer and our atmosphere would become cleaner? Explain to someone else how your activities are part of a “coupled system” of energy resources.

Extension Activity
Forced Choice Debate

  • Divide the class into three or four learning groups. Each group will be given one of the following positions in the fracking debate, which they must try to defend with evidence from this Explainer and their own research.
    Team A: Stop fracking immediately because the long-term contamination risks are not worth the current reward.
    Team B: Continue fracking and strengthen regulations to protect against possible consequences.
    Team C: Require companies that frack to give part of their profits to research groups exploring how to recycle all waste byproducts and return clean water to the watersheds.
    Team D: Require companies that frack to financially support research of cleaner and renewable alternative energy sources.
  • Each team must summarize its recommendations in a Prezi, PowerPoint, Pearltrees, or similar digital presentation tool.

Links to Learn More

  • Preserving Our Natural Resources, David Biello, Scientific American: Read this article from Scientific American to learn more about the issue of hydraulic fracturing waste disposal and the future of our natural resources.
  • Brine Water Alternatives, Kendall Gurule, Learn more about the emerging science of recycling brine water.
  • Tradeoffs… Gambling on Our Future?, AAAS ScienceNetLinks: Learn more about energy tradeoffs for fossil fuels and other natural resources.
  • Sustainability – Seeing “The Big Picture”, Learn about the interactions among human society, economics, politics, and ecosystems, and the fragile ties that try to hold these systems in balance.
  • Take Your Investigation Even Deeper , Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon University has an outstanding environmental science site dedicated to the promise and challenges of meeting our world’s energy demands.

NGSS Correlations

Performance Expectation: Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century. MS-ESS3-5

Disciplinary Core Idea: 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 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 human behavior, and applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. ESS3.D Global Climate Change

Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and effect

Science and Engineering Practices: Constructing explanations and designing solutions