Energy, Climate, and You (Rhode Island Edition) Elementary Student Guide

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Energy, Climate, and You




Student Guide


What is Energy? Energy helps us do things. It gives us light. It warms our bodies and homes. It bakes cakes and keeps milk cold. It runs our TVs and our cars. It makes us grow and move and think. Energy is the power to change things. It is the ability to do work.

Energy is Light Light is a form of energy we use all the time. We use it so we can see. We get most of our light from the sun. Working during the day saves money because sunlight is free. At night, we must make our own light. Usually, we use electricity to make light. Flashlights use electricity, too. This electricity comes from batteries.

Energy is Heat We use energy to make heat. The food we eat keeps our bodies warm. Sometimes, when we run or work hard, we get really hot. In the winter, our jackets and blankets hold in our body heat. We use the energy stored in plants and other things to make heat. We burn wood and natural gas to cook food and warm our houses. Factories burn fuel to make the products they sell. Power plants burn coal and natural gas to make electricity.

Energy Makes Things Grow All living things need energy to grow. Plants use light from the sun to grow. Plants change the energy from the sun into sugar and store it in their roots and leaves. This is called photosynthesis. Animals can’t change light energy into sugars. Animals, including people, eat plants and use the energy stored in them to grow. Animals can store the energy from plants in their bodies.


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Energy Makes Things Move It takes energy to make things move. Cars and motorcycles run on the energy stored in gasoline. Many toys run on the energy stored in batteries. Sail boats are pushed by the energy in the wind. After a long day, do you ever feel too tired to move? You’ve run out of energy. You need to eat some food to refuel.

Energy Runs Machines It takes energy to run our TVs, computers, and video games— energy in the form of electricity. We use electricity many times every day. It gives us light and heat, it makes things move, and it runs our toys, electronics, and microwaves. Imagine what your life would be like without electricity. We make electricity by burning coal, oil, gas, and even trash. We make it from the energy that holds atoms together. We make it with energy from the sun, the wind, and falling water. Sometimes, we use heat from inside the Earth to make electricity.

Energy Doesn’t Disappear There is the same amount of energy today as there was when the world began. When we use energy, we don’t use it up completely; we change it into other forms of energy. When we burn wood, we change its energy into heat and light. When we drive a car, we change the energy in the gasoline into heat and motion. There will always be the same amount of energy in the world, but more and more of it will be changed into heat. Most of that heat will go into the air. It will still be there, but it will be hard to use.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Photo courtesy of BP


Forms of Energy Scientists classify energy as more than just light, heat sound, motion, growth, and technology. They classify energy into different forms based on how they change or do work. There are many forms of energy, but they can all be put into two categories: potential and kinetic.

Potential Energy Potential energy is stored energy. There are several forms of potential energy. Chemical energy is energy stored between the bonds of atoms and molecules. It is the energy that holds these particles together. Biomass, petroleum, natural gas, propane, and the foods we eat are examples of stored chemical energy. Plants turn light into chemical energy through photosynthesis. Elastic energy is energy stored in compressed or stretched objects. Compressed springs and stretched rubber bands are examples of elastic energy. Nuclear energy is energy stored in the nucleus of an atom. It is the energy that holds the nucleus together. The energy can be released when the nuclei are pushed together or split apart. The sun uses nuclear energy to produce light. Nuclear power plants create electricity with nuclei. Gravitational potential energy is the energy of place or position. A rock resting at the top of a hill contains gravitational potential energy because of its position. Hydropower, such as water in a reservoir behind a dam, is an example of gravitational potential energy.

Kinetic Energy Kinetic energy is energy in motion; it is the motion of waves, electrons, atoms, molecules, substances, and objects. Electrical energy is the movement of electrons. Everything is made of tiny particles called atoms. Atoms are made of even smaller particles called electrons, protons, and neutrons. When electrons move through a wire we have electricity. Lightning is another example of electrical energy. Radiant energy is electromagnetic energy that travels in an up and down motion. These waves are called transverse waves. Radiant energy includes light, x-rays, radio waves. Sunlight is an example of radiant energy. Thermal energy, or heat, is the internal energy in a substance. Thermal energy is the vibration and movement of the atoms and molecules within a substance. A hot drink has more thermal energy than a cold drink. 4

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Motion energy is the movement of an object from one place to another. A moving windmill is an example of motion energy. Sound energy is when energy moves in waves that move side to side. These waves are called longitudinal waves. Sound is created when a force causes the object to vibrate. The energy is moved through the object longways in a longitudinal wave. A siren is an example of sound energy.

Energy is Transformed Energy is neither created nor destroyed. When we use energy, it doesn’t disappear, it changes from one form of energy into another. A plant uses the sun’s light and changes or transforms it into sugars or food. This is called photosynthesis. A car engine burns gasoline, transforming the chemical energy in the gasoline into motion energy. Solar cells change radiant energy into electrical energy.

Forms of Energy KINETIC

POTENTIAL Chemical Energy

Electrical Energy Radiant Energy

Elastic Energy

Thermal Energy

Nuclear Energy

Motion Energy Gravitational Potential Energy

Sound Energy

Energy Transformations

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Sources of Energy We use energy every day. When we use energy, we change the form of energy within energy sources so we can use it. In the United States, we use ten sources of energy. Five are renewable, and five are nonrenewable.

U.S. Consumption of Energy by Source, 2018


Nonrenewable Sources


Renewable Sources 0%












Nonrenewable Energy Sources

Nonrenewable Energy Sources and Percentages of Total Energy Consumption

A nonrenewable energy source is one that is limited. We cannot make more of that energy source very easily or quickly. Nonrenewable sources are all found within the Earth. Some are buried very deep and were formed long ago.


Uses: transportation, manufacturing includes propane




Uses: heating, manufacturing, electricity - includes propane

Uses: electricity, manufacturing

Uses: electricity





Uses: heating, manufacturing *Propane consumption is included in petroleum and natural gas totals.

Renewable Energy Sources and Percentages of Total Energy Consumption





Uses: heating, electricity, transportation

Uses: electricity

Uses: electricity

Uses: heating, electricity






Uses: heating, electricity

Coal is the youngest nonrenewable energy source. It was formed from plants that were living in ancient swamps hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years ago. The plants died and were buried and eventually turned into coal. This black, sometimes shiny rock has a lot of energy stored in it. Coal was used to power steam engines and heat buildings, but today coal is mostly used to generate electricity. **Total does not add up to 100% due to independent rounding. Data: Energy Information Administration

How Coal Was Formed

Before the dinosaurs lived and died, many giant plants died in swamps. Over millions to hundreds of millions of years, these plants were buried under water and dirt. Heat and pressure turned the dead plants into coal.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Petroleum is also called oil. It was formed hundreds of millions of years ago, before the dinosaurs, from tiny plants and animals that lived in ancient oceans. The plants and animals died and were buried, and over time turned into petroleum. Oil is a mixture of many different things and must be processed into its final products. Gasoline, propane, jet fuel, and diesel fuel are important petroleum products. Petroleum products are also used to make plastics and other important products. Natural gas was formed the same way as petroleum, but can also be found with coal. Natural gas is invisible and doesn’t have any odor. Natural gas is used mostly to heat buildings and generate electricity, and can also be used to create lots of products.

Propane is a specific gas that is taken out of petroleum and natural gas. When the petroleum and natural gas come out of the ground, they are processed, and one product is propane. It is a gas that can be compressed, or squished down, into a liquid. Barbecue grills use propane. People who live in the country may have very large propane tanks in their yards to use to heat their homes. Uranium is the oldest nonrenewable energy source. It has been stored in the rock layers of the Earth ever since the Earth was formed. It has nuclear energy stored in it. Uranium is used to generate electricity.


Tiny Plants and Animals





to 40

0 MI







Trapped gas



Plant and Animal Remains


How Petroleum and Natural Gas Were Formed

50 to



ILLIO Tiny sea plants and animals died and N YE were buried on the ocean floor. ARS AGO Over hundreds of millions of years, the remains were burried deeper and deeper. Heat and pressure turned the plant and animal remains into oil and gas deposits.

Trapped oil

TOD AY Note: not to scale

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Renewable Energy Sources Energy sources that have an unending supply are called renewable. The sun shines daily and the wind blows often. Water flows through streams and plants grow. Even after the plants die, more plants can grow. However, there are limits to what renewable energy sources can do. They are not always available at all times of the day or in all locations. Biomass is anything that is alive or was alive a short time ago. Trees, crops, garbage, and animal waste are all biomass. We can turn some plants into fuels, called biofuels. Biomass sources are burned for their energy. Garbage can be burned at a power plant to make electricity. Solar energy is energy from the sun, and is available all day long on sunny days. The equipment to use solar energy can take up a lot of space and can be expensive, but once it’s installed, the sunlight is free! We use solar energy to generate electricity or heat water during the day. At night, solar energy is not available. Geothermal energy is the thermal energy underground. The rocks deep underground never get hotter or colder with the seasons; they stay the same temperature all the time. There are also places where magma is close to the surface, called hot spots. Some places use geothermal energy to heat buildings, like homes or schools. In California, geothermal energy is used to generate electricity.

Hydropower is energy taken from flowing water to generate electricity. Wherever water flows swiftly, it can be used to generate electricity. In some places, a dam was built so water could build up behind it, forming a lake called a reservoir. The water flows out of the reservoir and through the dam to generate electricity. Wind energy is used to generate electricity. Large wind turbines are built in places where the wind is blowing consistently at good speeds. Not all areas are suitable for a wind turbine or wind farm, however. In some areas the winds are not strong enough all the time, or there are trees or landforms that are in the way of the steady winds.

Who Uses Energy? Energy users are divided into five groups, called sectors. They are industry, transportation, electric power generation, residences, and commercial buildings. The industrial sector describes large factories that make products. A steel foundry, cement plant, car factory, and petroleum refinery are all different examples of industry. The industrial sector uses about 33 percent of all the energy consumed in the United States. OIL REFINERY



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If you use something to get from one place to another, you are using the transportation sector. Cars, buses, trains, planes, and ships are all types of transportation and they all use energy to get there. Most of the energy used by transportation comes from petroleum. About 28 percent of our energy is used by the transportation sector. Residences are places where people live. They may be houses built for one family, or buildings like apartments that hold many residents. There are many sizes and types of residences in our country. Residences use 21 percent of the energy used in our country.

U.S. Energy Consumption by Sector, 2018 TRANSPORTATION 28%



COMMERCIAL 18% Data: Energy Information Administration

Energy Users

Commercial buildings are places where many people work. Schools, hospitals, government buildings, office buildings, warehouses and stores are all commercial buildings. The commercial sector uses about 18 percent of our nation’s energy.

Commercial Residential

The fifth sector, electric power generation, is special. It uses the most of our nation’s energy sources, but all of that energy is then passed on to the other sectors in the form of electricity. Think of it this way: When you turn on the TV, the energy comes from electricity, and that electricity had to come from somewhere. Power plants use energy sources like natural gas and coal to generate electricity, then pass it on to you to run your TV. So while you don’t burn the coal and make the electricity, you use the energy that the power plant brings in to produce the electricity. This is why we say the electric power generation sector uses the most energy sources, but not the most energy. It’s just a point in the process as energy changes form.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide





Generating Electricity Electricity is a mysterious force. We can’t see it like we see the sun. We can’t hold it like we hold coal. We know when it is working, but it is hard to know exactly what it is. Before we can Atom understand electricity, we need to learn about atoms.

Atoms Everything is made of atoms—every star, every tree, every animal. Even people are made of atoms. The air and water are, too. Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. They are very, very tiny particles. Millions of atoms would fit on the head of a pin.




Protons, Neutrons, and Electrons An atom looks like the sun with the planets spinning around it. The center is called the nucleus. It is made of tiny protons and neutrons. Electrons move around the nucleus in energy levels, or shells, far from the nucleus. When an atom is in balance, it has the same number of protons and electrons. It can have a different number of neutrons. Electrons stay in their shells because a special force holds them there. Protons and electrons are attracted to each other. Protons have a positive charge (+) and electrons have a negative charge (–). Opposite charges attract each other.

Electricity is Moving Electrons The electrons near the nucleus are held tight to the atom. Sometimes, the ones farthest away are not. We can push some of these electrons out of their energy levels. We can move them. Moving electrons are called electricity.


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Magnets are Special

Bar Magnet

In most objects, all the atoms are in balance. Half of the electrons spin in one direction; half spin in the other direction. They are spaced randomly in the object. Magnets are different. In magnets, the atoms are arranged so that the electrons are not in balance. The electrons don’t spin in a balanced way. Instead, the electrons line up. This creates a force of energy called a magnetic field around a magnet. We call one end of the magnet the north (N) pole and the other end the south (S) pole. The force of the magnetic field flows from the north pole to the south pole. Have you ever held two magnets close to each other? They don’t act like most objects. If you try to push the two north poles together, they repel each other. If you try to push the two south poles together, they repel each other.

Like Poles Like poles of magnets (N-N or S-S) repel each other.

Opposite Poles Opposite poles of magnets (N-S) attract each other.

Turn one magnet around and the north and the south poles attract. The magnets stick to each other with a strong force. Just like protons and electrons, opposites attract.

Magnets Can Make Electricity Turbine Generator TURBINE SPINS SHAFT Spinning Coil of Wire


Magnetism and electricity are related. Magnets can create electricity and electricity can produce magnetic fields. Every time a magnetic field changes, an electric field is created. Every time an electric field changes, a magnetic field is created. Magnetism and electricity are always linked together; you can’t have one without the other. This is called electromagnetism.



We can use magnets to make electricity. A magnetic field can pull and push electrons to make them move. Some metals, like copper, have electrons that are loosely held. They are easily pushed from their shells.

North Pole


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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Power Plants Use Magnets


Power plants use huge magnets to make, or generate, electricity. In a generator, a big coil of copper wire spins inside the magnets. As it spins, the magnetic fields push and pull electrons in the wire. The electrons in the copper wire flow into power lines. These moving electrons are the electricity that powers our houses. Power plants use giant wheels, called turbines, to spin the coils of wire in the generators. It takes a lot of energy to spin turbines. Power plants use many fuels to get that energy.

Electricity Travels Through Wires The spinning turbines make electricity. It flows into power lines. The electrons flow through the power lines to our houses. They flow through the wires and devices in our houses and back to the power plant. Then they start their journey again. There are many different types of power lines. The power plant makes electricity. The electricity flows through transmission lines held up by power towers. The transmission lines carry large amounts of electricity to electric poles in cities and towns.

Transporting Electricity Power plant generates electricity

Transmission lines carry electricity long distances

Transformer steps up voltage for transmission


Power Tower

Photo of Safe Harbor Water Power Corporation on the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.

Distribution lines carry small amounts of electricity from the electric poles to houses and businesses. Transformers make sure the electricity is in the proper units (voltage) for us to safely use.

Distribution lines carry electricity to houses

Step-down transformer reduces voltage (substation)

Electric Poles

Neighborhood transformer on pole steps down voltage before entering house

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Using Energy Wisely We use a lot of energy every day. Every day, the average American uses the same amount of energy as is stored in seven gallons of gasoline. Every single day! That’s a lot of energy. Most of our energy comes from nonrenewable sources, so it is important to save as much energy as we can. You may have heard about energy efficiency and conservation. These are ways of describing strategies to use less energy. When we buy special equipment to use less energy, like an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator or LED light bulbs, that is energy efficiency. The technology we use to reduce our energy use is energy efficiency.

Some people cannot purchase new equipment, though. Sometimes, we just have to use what we have. Whether we have old machines or brand-new, using them wisely will help save energy. Only open the refrigerator for as long as it takes to get something out. Keep windows and doors closed when the heating or air conditioning systems are turned on. Turn the lights off if you are the last person to leave a room. These are examples of energy conservation. The behaviors we use to save energy are energy conservation.

When you leave a room, remember to turn the lights off.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


How Buildings Use Energy Buildings are important. They keep us and our belongings warm, dry, and safe. They provide a place for us to live that is separated from the hot sun, cold wind, or stormy rain clouds. Keeping us warm in winter or cool in summer, and able to work at night, takes energy.

Lock It Down On a winter’s day, have you sat indoors, watching snowflakes drift down from clouds? You are warm and comfortable inside. You probably don’t have to wear a heavy winter coat inside. This is because your home keeps the warm air inside and cold air outside in winter. In summer, it keeps cool air inside and the hot air outside. The walls, roof, doors, windows, and floors separate the indoors from the outdoors. Keeping the indoors comfortable uses energy. Your home has a heating system and may have an air conditioning or cooling system. These use energy. Some heating systems burn natural gas or fuel oil for heat, and others use electricity for heat. Some heating systems heat air and push it around with a fan, and others heat water and push the water around with a pump. Fans and pumps require electricity to work. Air conditioners use electricity to cool the air inside. AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM


You can save energy by keeping the heat or air conditioner set at a reasonable temperature – 68 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer – and by keeping doors and windows closed when the systems are turned on. You can also save energy by using a fan or opening a window in the summer instead of running the air conditioner. Even though they use electricity, fans use a lot less energy than air conditioners. PROGRAMMABLE THERMOSTAT

Light It Up American families spend over $100 per year just to power their lights. Think of your house. How many light bulbs are in the kitchen, living room, bed rooms, and bathrooms? Each one uses electricity, and costs money to power. A very short time ago, we used a lot of energy in the form of electricity to make light to be able to see. Many homes, schools, and other commercial buildings used a lot of incandescent lighting. These types of bulbs were perfected by Thomas Edison in 1879 and didn’t change much for the next 125 or more years! Incandescent bulbs have always been very inefficient. They use about 90 percent

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of the electricity they use to make heat. This heat makes a wire inside the bulb glow to make light. Only 10 percent of the electricity the bulb uses turns into light! In 2007, the U.S. passed a law called The Energy Independence and Security Act. This law changed the efficiency of light bulbs we used most often. This law says that bulbs now must be 30 percent more efficient than the original, inefficient incandescent bulbs. The government hoped that these rules would give the people the same amount of light but with less energy use. Most incandescent light bulbs were taken off store shelves and can no longer be purchased. There are several light bulb options that meet the new efficiency standards. Energy-saving incandescent, or halogen, bulbs are different than original incandescent bulbs because they have a capsule around the glowing wire that is filled with a gas called halogen. This gas allows the bulbs to last three times longer and use 25 percent less energy. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) provide the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs, but use up to 75 percent less energy and last ten times longer. CFLs produce very little heat. CFLs have a small amount of mercury inside and should always be recycled rather than thrown away. Many retailers recycle CFLs for free. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are the most popular light bulb today. These bulbs are the same types of bulbs you see in exit signs, clocks on your DVD player, and the on/off light on your remote. This technology can also be used to light your whole house. Lower prices and app-based technologies are causing LEDs to replace CFLs and incandescents. LEDs are one of the most energy-efficient lighting choices available today. LEDs use 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescents,and ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

can last 25,000 hours. LEDs are similar in cost to other bulbs and use even less energy than CFLs. INCANDESCENT BULB




LEDs offer better light quality than incandescent bulbs and halogens, last 25 times as long, and use even less energy than CFLs. LEDs now have a wide array of uses because technology has improved and costs have decreased. CFL use has greatly decreased as LED prices have come down to the similar price as other bulbs.

Plug It In Trivia time: Which uses more electricity, the lights in a home, or the things that plug into an electrical outlet? If you guessed things that plug in, you’re absolutely right. Appliances, electronics, fans, and anything that plugs into a wall outlet use about four times more electricity than the lights in a typical home. Computers, TVs, game consoles, refrigerators, fans, and all the other devices that have cords and plugs are collectively known as plug loads. For every $100 spent on electricity in a typical family, $20 is spent to power plug loads. How many plug load devices do you personally own and use? All plug load devices are not created equal. Some use more energy than others to do the same work. If you are ever shopping for a new computer, look for the ENERGY STAR® logo. The ENERGY STAR® program rates devices for their energy use and awards the ENERGY STAR® rating to the ones that use the least amount of energy. Sometimes ENERY STAR® rated devices cost a little more than ordinary devices, but the money they save in energy can more than make up the difference in price.


Some devices, like TVs and game systems, use electricity even when turned off. These are called phantom loads because they’re electrical loads that you cannot see, like a phantom. Anything that has an LED on it, like a clock, or that uses a remote control, is always using a little bit of electricity. These phantom loads can really add up, too. The best way to get rid of phantom loads is to unplug those devices when they aren’t in use. If the outlet is out of reach, you can use a power strip and turn the switch off. Sometimes there are devices that you only use when you use others. For example, you probably don’t use a DVD player or a game console unless the TV is turned on. A smart strip can be used for these systems. When the main device is switched off – in this case the TV – the smart strip automatically cuts the power to the other devices plugged into it. If you have something like a cable DVR that you don’t want powered down, there is a special outlet for it. Eliminating phantom loads can save 5-10 percent of the electricity that these devices consume.


Make A Difference You’re just a kid, how can you make a difference? Believe it or not, adults will listen to you when you present good ideas in a respectful, positive way. You may not be making the decisions about the appliances and light bulbs your family buys, but you can make suggestions. Tell the grownups in your house about ENERGY STAR® appliances. Explain how LED light bulbs use less electricity to do the same job and last a lot longer. Set a good example by turning off the water while you brush your teeth and not leaving things turned on when you’re finished with them.

Home Energy Usage










Data: EIA 2015 RECS

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What is a Climate? Think about where you live. What can you expect from one day to the next, month after month? Is it usually sunny? Do you get a lot of rain? Are the winters cold and snowy? Do you have warm, sunny weather all year long? Are your summers short and winters long? All of these describe different climates. When we talk about what we can expect from the weather in a certain time of year or over the course of a whole year, we are talking about an area’s climate.

Weather vs. Climate People often confuse weather and climate because they both describe the same thing – what it’s like outdoors. However, weather is only what is happening in the moment. We might talk about today’s weather, or the weather this week. Climate is what we can expect, based on a lot of measurements over a long period of time. The climate for an area describes the normal or average conditions like high temperature, low temperature, or rainfall. It might be hotter than usual this week; that is the weather being abnormal for the climate.

Earth’s Major Climate Zones 23.5° AXIS

NORTH POLE (90° N) Polar Zone Temperate Zone

What you can expect from a climate depends mostly on the location’s latitude. Lines of latitude are parallel, imaginary lines drawn around the Earth. If you were to slice the Earth in northern and southern halves, you would have sliced it along the equator. Latitude lines run parallel to the equator.

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

The further you move away from the equator, the less intense the light from the sun, and the cooler average temperatures become. The areas in the far north and south are polar climate zones. Tropical areas usually have very warm, humid conditions most of the year. Between the tropics and polar regions we have temperate zones, where there are four distinct seasons and moderate rainfall. Dry regions have almost no precipitation and are found in many locations on Earth.


Climate Factors

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People who live at or near the equator get the most intense, direct sunlight. Areas at or near the equator have the warmest temperatures all year long and don’t really have distinct seasons. They may have rainy periods or dry periods, but these regions, known as the tropics, do not have winter, spring, or autumn.




Tropical Zone




Temperate Zone 60°

Polar Zone




Life in a Greenhouse Let’s imagine it is winter, and time for bed. You wash up, brush your teeth, put on your pajamas, say goodnight to your family, and climb into bed. What do you do next? Most people pull one or more blankets over them before going to sleep in the winter. Why do you pull those blankets over you? Just like your covers keep you warm overnight, the Earth’s atmosphere keeps us warm at night. While it is day time, our part of the Earth is facing the sun and being warmed by energy from it. However, when the Earth rotates and our part of the Earth moves away from the sun, the sun’s energy is not striking Earth’s surface. Without the sunlight, things cool off at night. 250º 200º 150º

This happens on the moon, too. The surface of the moon in its daytime can reach as high as 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and at night the temperature can dip to below -200 degrees Fahrenheit! The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was 130 degrees Fahrenheit, in Death Valley, California. The coldest temperatures are thought to be in Antarctica on the East Antarctic Plateau, at around -135 degrees. Scientists used satellite data to measure the temperature since the plateau is very large and few people are there in the winter. Most temperatures on Earth are not nearly this hot or cold.

253º F - Daytime temperature on the Moon 212º F - Water boils

130º F - Hottest temperature on Earth

100º 50º

32º F - Water Freezes

0º -50º -100º -150º -200º

-135º F - Coldest temperature on Earth

-208º F - Nighttime temperature on the Moon

-250º The temperatures on the Moon vary much more than temperatureson Earth throughout the day. Our atmosphere protects us from getting too hot or too cold.


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Why are there such big differences in temperature between Earth and the moon? The moon is about the same distance from the sun, so distance isn’t the difference. What does the Earth have that the moon doesn’t have? The Earth has an atmosphere! The atmosphere is a layer of air or gases that acts like a blanket to keep the Earth warm at night. It also helps keep us from getting too hot in the day. Clouds in the atmosphere, and the atmosphere itself, reflect some sunlight before it can ever reach the ground. Gases in the atmosphere absorb and hold heat energy, releasing it slowly overnight. This is known as the greenhouse effect. Without the atmosphere, life on Earth would be impossibly hot or cold, just like on the moon. The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, but there are other gases mixed in. Three of them are greenhouse gases, meaning they absorb and hold heat energy and create the greenhouse effect. These three gases are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4). All of these gases occur naturally, but some things people do increase carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.

The Greenhouse Effect


Atmo DI

s p he re






The greenhouse effect is the important process that protects us from too high or low temperatures. The Earth’s atmosphere acts like a protective blanket holding in enoughheat and reflecting back the rest.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Our Global Climate is Changing Most of our energy today comes from burning nonrenewable fossil fuels. Cars and trucks burn petroleum, industry and power plants burn coal, and homes, businesses, schools, and power plants burn natural gas. Burning these fuels results in CO2 being released into the atmosphere. While plants and trees take CO2 out of the atmosphere, we are putting it back faster than plants can take it out. This is causing the world’s climate to change. Scientists have measured the amount of CO2 present in the atmosphere by removing ice from enormous glaciers in Greenland. Snow falls and gets stacked up in layers on glaciers in layers each year. A thick layer indicates heavy snowfall and a thin layer indicates less snow. Scientists remove a cylinder of ice from the glacier and count backward through the layers. They remove each layer and measure the amount of CO2 in it, and can determine how much CO2 was in the atmosphere in that year. It’s pretty “cool”. What scientists have learned is that before the Industrial Revolution, (1760-1840), the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere stayed at the same level all the time. People were burning mostly wood for energy, and the amount of CO2 added by burning wood was equal to the amount of CO2 removed by plants. Once people started removing coal and petroleum from the ground and using it for energy, things started to change. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere began to increase faster than plants could remove it. Today, CO2 levels are almost 50 percent higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution began. 20

CO2 Levels 1744-Present 400



250 1750







Data: Earth System Research Laboratory

The Effects of Climate Change We have been putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that our trees and plants cannot keep up with it. We are changing the average temperature on Earth. Climate scientists, or climatologists, tell us that the average temperature of the Earth has increased about two degrees Fahrenheit. This has caused a major decrease in the ice found all year in polar regions. The water from the melting ice has found its way to the oceans, causing sea levels to rise. When Glacier National Park was established in 1910 in Montana, it had over 100 glaciers. Only 26 were counted in 2015.

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Image source: Unsplash

How Climate Change Affects People Have you ever been to a sandy beach? What is it like there? The sand slopes down gently to meet the water’s edge. At low tide, the water is further out because the water level is lower. At high tide, the beach seems smaller, because the water level is higher. If there is a big storm off the coast, the winds push water up onto the shore, which makes the beach even smaller or disappear entirely. The way the beach looks is related to how high the water is. Sea levels are rising because climate change is causing more ice to melt than before the Industrial Revolution. People who live near the oceans, in areas called coastal regions, are directly affected by changes in the ocean. If there is a big storm, the people living along the coast near the storm can experience temporary flooding. If sea levels rise even more, people living in coastal towns and cities may not be able to stay because those areas may be flooded permanently. All of us are starting to feel another effect of climate change – hotter summers. When the temperature goes up, we turn the air conditioner on. But what about people who don’t have air conditioning, or cannot afford the cost of running it? When temperatures

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

are very hot, people who have breathing problems get sick more. Why? Because the hot air includes more moisture, called humidity, and more pollution can remain in the hot air. Asthma and other conditions that affect breathing are made worse by too much or too little humidity. People who suffer from these conditions will feel the effects of climate change more quickly. Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people are more likely to suffer from asthma. This can often be associated with where people live, work, and play. A person’s income can often limit where they live, work, and play. Having a low income often means living without things like air conditioning that can help with hot, humid air. When air conditioners or humidifiers are turned on, electric power plants must produce more electricity. This often means power plants will burn more natural gas and coal to meet that electricity need. What happens when we burn natural gas and coal? We release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is a difficult cycle we are stuck in. This is why many people want to increase our use of nuclear power, solar, hydropower, and wind energy to meet our electricity needs. These sources do not emit carbon dioxide. COASTAL FLOOD

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Take a Deep Breath Where do you think the air is cleanest, indoors, or outdoors? For most of us, it is outdoors. The air just feels fresher and cleaner there. But for some people who live near major highways or big factories, or in some big cities that are crowded, the cleaner air is indoors. Having clean air to breathe is important and necessary. People who study the cleanliness of air study air quality. Outdoor air quality changes according to the weather. On hot days, or on hot and humid days, more dust, pollen, and pollution are found in the air. Windy days may bring cleaner air, or in some places they bring dust storms that make the air dirtier. Outdoor air quality also changes according to location. The exhaust from cars and trucks make the air full of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other pollutants. The smokestacks from factories and power plants burning coal are sending carbon dioxide, soot, and other pollutants into the atmosphere. They are much cleaner than they were 50 years ago, but they’re still not perfectly clean. Some big cities are located in valleys that trap air pollution. Some people live near areas that have a lot of forest fires and the smoke makes the air difficult to breathe. FACTORY WITH SMOKE STACKS

People who live in areas with high pollution, like cities, will often need to keep their windows closed so the air indoors is cleaner. But sometimes old buildings and the systems inside don’t allow for clean air to breathe. Some buildings have insulation or paint left in them from long ago that may not be safe. If it’s too hot, and air conditioning isn’t available, the windows stay open to keep cool. And sometimes the windows on the older buildings don’t close all the way. When people don’t have access to clean air, they get sick more often. When we burn gasoline and diesel fuel in our vehicles, or coal and natural gas in our power plants, we add to air pollution. When we drive or ride a bus instead of walking or riding a bike, we are adding to the pollution in the air. When we turn the air conditioner colder instead of getting a cool drink and turning on a fan, we are adding to the pollution in the air. We don’t all live in areas where air pollution is a problem, but choices we make can affect people who do live in areas with air pollution. What can we do to clean up the air? We can make choices that use less energy. We can walk instead of driving to a friend’s house. We can turn things off or use them wisely and use less electricity. We can plant trees and other plants that help remove air pollution, too. There are many things we can do. HEAVY CITY TRAFFIC

Image source: Unsplash


Image source: Unsplash ©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Energy In Rhode Island Did you know that Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S.? but When it comes to making energy decisions, however, Rhode Islanders think BIG. The people of Rhode Island consume less energy than the people in any other state. The Ocean State aims to be a national leader in energy efficiency, conservation, and greenhouse gas emissions. The state of Rhode Island has committed to using more renewables in the next ten years, by making electricity 100% renewable! How will we get there, you ask? Well, let’s start by looking at how Rhode Island uses energy now. When you look at these graphs and charts, can you think of things you and your fellow Rhode Islanders could do differently?

Rhode Island Fast Facts


Rhode Islanders pay the second highest cost for electricity in the U.S. at 23¢ per kilowatt-hour.

Rhode Island Energy Consumption by Source, 2018 NONRENEWABLE, 95%




Natural Gas




Uses: transportation, manufacturing - Includes Propane

Uses: electricity, heating, manufacturing - Includes Propane


Uses: electricity










Uses: electricity, manufacturing

Rhode Islanders use the LEAST amount of energy per person in the U.S.

Rhode Island ranks 49th in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, emitting around 10 million metric tons.


Uses: electricity, heating, transportation


Uses: electricity

Rhode Island is home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Onshore and offshore wind capacity totals 75 MW.


Uses: electricity

Uses: electricity, heating

*Propane consumption figures are reported as part of petroleum and natural gas totals.


Uses: heating, manufacturing

Uses: electricity, heating

Data: Energy Information Administration


Rhode Island might be the smallest state, but it has nearly 400 miles of coastline with its coves, bays, islands, and beaches.

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Energy Infrastructure in Rhode Island

Solar Wind Natural Gas Hydropower Petroleum

Map courtesy of EIA

Rhode Island Electricity Generation by Source, 2018

Rhode Island Energy Consumption by Sector, 2018




3% 2%










Natural Gas




Data: Energy Information Administration *Total doesn’t equal 100% due to independent rounding

Source: Energy Information Administration *Total doesn’t equal 100% due to independent rounding

©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

In My Community Think about where you live. Is it a big city? A small town? In the country? What is your neighborhood like? Some kids grow up in a neighborhood with big yards, sidewalks, and a park where they can play. Other kids grow up in a big building in the city where many families live and need to walk several blocks to a place to play. Some kids grow up with a lot of wide, open spaces around them, but have to walk a long way to go to the neighbor’s house. Neighborhoods are different but they are all important. How does your community use energy? Do most people drive a car to get places? Do you walk? Is public transportation, like buses or trains, available? Some homes have laundry machines where they clean their clothes. Other families need to go to a laundromat to clean clothes. Some neighborhoods have many street lights and lighted signs. Some neighborhoods do not have any street lights at all. How hot does your community get in the summer? Some neighborhoods are shady and have yards and cool places to relax. Other neighborhoods are mostly concrete or asphalt

which gets hot in the summer sun. Some city neighborhoods have trees planted along the street, while others don’t have any. Some country neighborhoods have dirt roads and no sidewalks at all. As you think about your community, look around and think about how you and your friends use energy. Are there things you can do to make your community better? Are there things you can do to make all communities better? What are those things? We all need to use energy to keep our food fresh and our homes warm, dry, and comfortable. We need lights to stay safe and to see at night, both indoors and outdoors. We need to wash our clothes, do our work on computers, and enjoy our free time. We need to go to work or school, and get back home, in a safe manner. We can do those things and still make good choices about our energy use. We can do things to slow down climate change. We can make choices that make every neighborhood a safe and healthy place to live.



Image source: Unsplash

Image source: Unsplash

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Candy Collector ? Question  What happens when energy resources are limited?

 Materials 1 Straw per person 1 Dish of candies per group 2 Empty containers per group

Procedure PART 1: NONRENEWABLES 1. Your group represents a community that uses energy. Think of a name for your community and write it in the data section below. 2. The candies in your dish represent energy sources. Transfer the candies from the dish to an empty container using only the straw. 3. When your teacher says go, you will transfer candies for 15 seconds into the second container. This 15 seconds represents energy use for one year. 4. At the end of the first “year”, count the candies and write the number on the data table. Pour the candies into the empty container. 5. When your teacher says go, you will transfer candies for another 15 seconds, representing another year. 6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until you have collected and counted candies for a total of three “years.” 7. Answer the conclusion questions for Part 1. PART 2: RENEWABLES 1. Your teacher will add a different kind of candy to your dish. 2. Write each member at the top of the data table for Part 2. Each person gets his/her/their own column. Add another column if necessary. 3. Follow your teacher’s instructions for this part of the activity. 4. Answer the conclusion questions for Part 2.

 Data and Observations Community Name: ________________________________________________________________________________ Community Members: _____________________________________________________________________________


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Number of Candies Collected


Number of Candies Collected 2



1 2 3 4

 Conclusion PART 1: NONRENEWABLES 1. How many candies did your community use each year? If you had collected candy for one more year, how many do you predict you would have collected?

2. How many years do you predict your candy would have lasted? How can you figure it out using math?

3. What kind of energy sources do your candies represent?

PART 2: RENEWABLES 1. Did everybody have enough energy for year 1?

2. What was special about the new kind of candy?

3. What kind of energy sources do the new kind of candy represent?

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Today in Energy ? Question  What choices do we make every day that use more energy than needed?

 Materials 1 set of Today in Energy cards, provided by your teacher

Procedure 1. Lay all the cards on the table. 2. Decide which choice you will make for each card by turning each over to look at both sides. Flip the card so your choice is facing up. 3. Add up the energy bucks you used. 4. Your teacher will give you an energy buck budget. 5. Decide which choices you will change to stay within your energy buck budget.

 Conclusions 1. Before your teacher gave you the budget, how much did your day cost in energy bucks?

2. Which activities did you change to stay in your energy buck budget?

3. Name three things you can do at home to help your family save energy.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Energy Audit ? Question  Do we use energy wisely at school?

 Materials Energy Audit Tools Thermometer Hygrometer Light meter Kill A Watt® meter Pencil or Pen Clipboard or folder Student Energy Audit Recording Form Recommended Light Levels list

Procedure 1. Pay attention as your teacher shows you how to properly operate the audit tools. Remember, these are tools, not toys, but real tools used by energy professionals. 2. Audit your classroom to practice taking measurements and recording information. 3. When it is your group’s turn to audit, go to your assigned area and quickly, quietly, and professionally take your measurements. Split up the work among your group to make it go a little faster. 4. Share data with your group members after you have returned. 5. As a group, decide on the recommendations you will make for saving energy in your assigned area.

 Data and Observations Study the audit recording form(s) for the area(s) you measured. List each room or area below. Name some things that would help save energy in that room or area.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


 Conclusions 1. What will you recommend to save energy in your school? Put a star () beside the two you think would make the biggest difference.

2. Think about what you do at home. List some things you and your family might be able to do at home to save energy. Put a star () beside the two suggestions in #2 that you think would make the biggest difference. Put an X next to the suggestions in #2 that you think might be difficult for your family to do.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Measuring Electricity Use ? Question  Which appliances and machines in your schools use the most energy?

 Materials Pluggable appliances and devices Kill A Watt® meter

Procedure Calculate how much it costs to operate the machines in your classroom that you looked at before. You need to know the wattage, the cost of electricity, and the number of hours a week each machine is used. the number of hours per week the item is used. Enter it onto the chart. Multiply by 40 to get 1 Estimate hours per year of use. We are using 40 weeks for schools, because school buildings aren’t used every week of the year. Using the copier as an example, if it is used for ten hours each week, we can find the yearly use like this:

Yearly use = 10 hours/week x 40 weeks/year = 400 hours/year Unplug the device safely. Plug the Kill A Watt® meter into the outlet. Plug the device into the front of the Kill A Watt® meter. Press the “Watts” button on the front of the meter and record the watts the devices uses in the chart. *NOTE: Do not unplug a device at school without making sure it’s allowable to do so. Some devices like copiers require long start-up times, and you know what happens if a computer is unplugged before work is saved.


is measured in kilowatt-hours. You will need to change watts to kilowatts. One kilowatt is equal 3 Electricity to 1,000 watts. Divide the watts by 1,000 to get kilowatts. Write this number in the chart. Using the copier as an example, divide like this: kW = W/1,000


kW = 1,265/1,000 = 1.265 Remember, we pay for electricity by kilowatt-hours. One kilowatt-hour costs the school about 13 cents. To find the yearly cost, we multiply the hours per year by kilowatts. Then multiply this by the cost of a kilowatt-hour ($0.13 for U.S.; $0.23 for Rhode Island). We can figure out how much it costs to run the copier for a year by using this formula: Yearly cost = Hours used per year x Kilowatts x Cost of electricity (kWh) Yearly cost = 400 hours/year x 1.265 kW x $0.13 kWh Yearly cost = 400 x 1.265 x 0.13 = $65.78

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide







RATE ($/kWh)




400 hours

1,265 W

1.265 kW



 Conclusion 1. Which devices are the biggest energy users in your classroom? Which devices use the least amount of energy?

2. Were you surprised by any devices that used more or less energy than you originally expected?

3. Identify three action items your class can take to reduce energy consumption, and calculate how much money can be saved by doing them.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Greenhouse in a Beaker ? Question  How does adding carbon dioxide to the air affect the air’s temperature during the day and during the night?

 Materials 2 600 mL Beakers 1 250 mL Erlenmeyer flask 1 Rubber stopper with hole 1 Piece of vinyl tubing, 3/16” diameter 1 Clip light 1 1000-1100 lumen Bulb (equivalent to 75-watt incandescent)

1 Ruler 2 Digital thermometers Small piece of masking tape 4 Alka-Seltzer® tablets Safety glasses 240 mL Water (room temperature)

Procedure PART 1—DAY 1. Set up the light so it is 15 cm in front of the two beakers. The beakers should be receiving equal light. 2. Insert the tubing through the hole in the 250 mL flask, making sure to keep the tubing from reaching the bottom of the flask. Place the other end of the tubing near the bottom of one of the beakers. Secure the tubing inside this beaker with a small piece of masking tape. 3. Add 120 mL of water to the flask. Be sure the tubing is not in the water. 4. Turn on the clip light. Wait for the temperature in each beaker to stabilize. The temperatures in the beakers should be similar, but they do not have to be exactly the same. 5. Record the stable temperature of each beaker in the data table. 6. Break two Alka-Seltzer® tablets in half and drop the pieces into the flask. Secure the rubber stopper into the flask and make sure the tubing still leads from the flask to the beaker. 7. Record the temperature of each beaker every 30 seconds for three minutes. PART 2—NIGHT 1. After you have data to model temperatures during the day, empty out your beakers and flask. Refill the flask with 120 mL water. Resecure the tubing inside one of the beakers. 2. Turn on the clip light. Wait for the temperature to stabilize. The temperatures in the beakers should be similar, but they do not have to be exactly the same. 3. Record the stable temperature of each beaker in the data table. 4. Break two more Alka-Seltzer® tablets in half and drop the pieces into the flask. Secure the rubber stopper as done before. 5. Turn off the light. 6. Record the temperature of each beaker every 30 seconds for three minutes.

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Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide







Beginning Temperature 30 seconds 1 minute 1 minute, 30 seconds 2 minutes 2 minutes, 30 seconds 3 minutes SIMULATED NIGHT DATA RANGE

Beginning Temperature 30 seconds 1 minute 1 minute, 30 seconds 2 minutes 2 minutes, 30 seconds 3 minutes Create a graph displaying both the day and night temperatures for both beakers.

 Conclusion 1. What happened to the temperature in the two beakers when the light was turned on (simulated day time)? Did the temperatures change the same amount? If not, which showed the greater change?

2. What happened to the temperature in the two beakers when the light was turned off (simulated night time)? Did the temperatures change the same amount? If not, which showed the greater change?

3. How do you think this activity relates to climate change? Use data from the activity to explain your answer.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Carbon In My Life Informational Text Carbon is one of the most common elements in the world and is in nearly everything. Carbon dioxide is also often released as a byproduct in the manufacturing, transportation, and use of products, food, individual transportation, and daily energy consumption. Remember that our “carbon footprint” is the total amount of carbon dioxide contributed by all of the things we do and all of the things we use, at home or at school. You can probably think of a few ways to reduce your carbon footprint, including walking instead of driving, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs or LED bulbs, and recycling. Today people are looking closely at new ways to reduce their carbon footprint, or the carbon in their lives. In this activity, you’ll learn how to investigate the carbon impacts of the products you use, the foods you eat, the energy and water you use, and of the different forms of transportation you use. You will select items to study and develop strategies to reduce your carbon footprint at school. Later, you can apply some of the same strategies at home.

Products To determine the carbon impact for any product we buy or use, we have to look at the “life cycle” for that product. The product life cycle includes everything that had to happen to make that item, deliver it to you, and what happens to it when you’re done. Thinking about a product’s life cycle can tell us a lot about its carbon impact. It is also important to think about whether a product is disposable or not. Disposable products can include everyday items like bottles, plates, silverware, and drinking straws. Diapers, writing utensils, contact lenses, and even items like gift cards are considered disposable. If you receive a gift card or give a gift card as a present, what do you do with it? Many people use a gift card and when the value has been used completely, they throw it away. These gift cards often come with different types of packaging around them, and we often go even further and wrap them more decoratively. Some gift cards can be reloaded with ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

value added to them. Many disposable products can even be used twice or several times. There are also many reusable alternatives to disposable products. Whether you use disposable or reusable products, either option involves the mining, extraction, refining, manufacture, and shipping of parts and packaging, often including plastics. Each of these individual steps involves energy use and carbon impacts. Many disposable products can be made from recycled materials, which means less energy and carbon were involved in their manufacture. Try to use products made from recycled content as much as possible. When recyclable or reusable alternatives to disposable products are used, they can reduce your carbon impact by a significant amount. If you purchase a reusable cup and straw you will have created far less waste and reduced your carbon footprint. Purchasing online “e”-gift cards or using app-based payment can save on waste and impacts as well. Some businesses even reward customers for using reusable products or for environmentally-friendly purchases. If stores can cut costs on supplies like cups and straws because their customers use reusable ones, it often leads to discounts for those customers.

Foods The foods you eat also have an impact on the amount of carbon in your life. Where does most of your food come from? There are many places our food and food products can come from. Some people eat foods that they have grown and produced themselves. Many people buy all of their foods at the grocery store or local market. Does all of the food we eat get produced GIFT CARD


locally? In many cases, the items we eat are shipped in from all over the country, and sometimes the world! Not all foods can be grown year-round, or in all climates, but we eat them anyway to supplement our diets. If it is cold and wintry where you live, the produce you buy at the store is probably not produced locally, it is shipped in from other areas. Some foods like animal products, or foods with multiple ingredients, require more energy to produce and keep them healthy for those who eat them. Items that must be transported long distances or require more energy to produce will have a much greater carbon impact. Some foods use a lot of packaging. This packaging has a carbon footprint all its own and is different for plastic wrapping, paper boxes, or foam containers. Usually, the less packaging any product has, the lower its carbon footprint. What do we do with the packaging? Is it recycled?




Like products, leftover food has a life after we’re done with it. Are we sending leftover food items down the drain, into a landfill, or are we sending them to a compost pile to be turned into rich soil for a garden? Think about the life cycle for every plastic fork or disposable plate you might use in one year. Would it be better to use plates and utensils that are used over and over again, or would it require too much water and energy to clean and dry them? Compostable utensils and containers are now readily available and common. How would these be better for the environment than disposable utensils? How many different ways is carbon involved in the refrigeration, preparation, handling, and transportation of food at your school or home?


Energy We all use many forms of energy at school and at home, including our lights and computers, heating and cooling rooms, running our refrigerators and phones, and more. There are two main ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the energy we use. The easiest way to reduce our energy use is by conservation. Conservation is simply saving by changing our behaviors—to remember to turn off lights and other electrical devices when not in use and to set thermostats to use less energy to heat and cool rooms. Look around your classroom to see how many different items are plugged in and using electricity.


Another way to use less energy is by energy efficiency or using better equipment. Switching light bulbs to compact fluorescents (CFLs) or light emitting diode (LED) bulbs and buying ENERGY STAR® appliances, as

©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

well as insulating and weather-stripping our homes are examples of energy efficiency at work. The second way to reduce the carbon footprint of the energy we use is in using renewable resources or less carbon-rich forms of energy. Coal is a nonrenewable resource that makes a large percentage of our electricity, but has a significant carbon footprint. Electricity can come from using renewable resources—wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power. These sources create no CO2 during energy production and are called “carbon neutral.” While nuclear energy is nonrenewable, there are no emissions associated with electricity generation, so electricity generated from nuclear power is also carbon neutral. Some utility companies give customers the opportunity to request that most or all of their electricity comes from carbon neutral sources or purchase these credits on their bill. Some schools and homes are equipped with solar photovoltaic systems or wind turbines that generate as much electricity throughout the year as the buildings use. There are many ways to decrease your energy carbon footprint.



Image courtesy of United States Environmental Protection Agency




You might not think that the water we use can add to our carbon footprint, but it does. The processes of finding, purifying, treating, and transporting water involve energy and have a carbon footprint. When we are done with the water it goes to a sewage or water treatment plant and these steps add to water’s carbon footprint. So, using less water reduces your carbon footprint on the input side and on the output side of your use. It takes energy to heat our water, and this process creates carbon dioxide. If the water heater settings are too high, lowering the setting can lower your carbon footprint. The two greatest ways we can reduce the carbon footprint of the water we use are to use less and to manage the water we’re using differently. There are many ideas for using less water: take short showers instead of baths, don’t let the water run while you brush your teeth or wash dishes, and be sure that your sprinkler systems are not wasting water. Installing low-flow toilets and showerheads will save a lot of water and lower your carbon footprint. ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

When our wastewater leaves our house or school, it goes to a treatment plant that uses energy and where more carbon dioxide is created. Whenever you can, don’t send water down the drain; use it to water plants or trees instead. Think of all the places water is used at your school and try to think of ways to take action to reduce your carbon footprint.


Transportation For Americans, transportation choices make up a large part of our carbon footprint. Over long distances we can travel by car, by bus, by train, or by plane. Train travel tends to have the lowest carbon impact and air travel has the highest. Most of us need to use some form of transportation every day. The choices for most people are to use a car, a bus, a local rapid transit, a bicycle, or to walk. Some ways to reduce our carbon footprint include driving less by combining errands into fewer trips, driving slower on the highway, and carpooling. Four people carpooling to school or work in one car use a fraction of the energy of four people in separate cars. Whenever possible, walk, bike, or use public transportation. When we have to use a car, we should remember that some cars, like hybrids, are much more efficient than others, and maintaining proper tire pressure and keeping the car tuned-up leads to better fuel economy and reduced carbon emissions. At school, we can encourage students to walk or bike, or find ways for students to carpool. Some schools have a “no-idling” rule when students are being picked up after school, which cuts down on the amount of fuel burned and the amount of emissions released. What are the different ways students and teachers use transportation at your school? What are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint in the ways you use transportation?

Comparing Carbon Footprints Paper or Plastic Shopping Bags?

Which product do you think uses less energy and has a lower carbon footprint? Both have impacts in their manufacture, transportation, and disposal, but a life cycle analysis shows that neither is perfect. Paper bags are made of a renewable resource, wood, and they are recyclable. Plastic bags are made of nonrenewable petroleum, but use less energy in their manufacture and transportation. They don’t decompose well in a landfill, but they are recyclable too. It actually takes more than four times the energy to make a paper bag and, because they take up more space, it takes more energy to transport them in bulk.


Recycling paper and plastic bags will help decrease your carbon footprint, but the very best choice is to use a reusable shopping bag made of canvas or recycled plastic. These are becoming widely available at stores and are, by far, more environmentally friendly than any disposable bag.

Foam or Paper Drinking Cups?

Foam, or Styrofoam™, has many uses including drinking cups. Foam cups are recyclable, but they are not biodegradable. If foam is not properly disposed of and ends up in the environment, it can remain there for hundreds of years. Paper cups are often recyclable and will break down in the environment more quickly than foam, but in landfills both take up space and will not readily decompose. Studies show that it actually takes more energy to produce paper cups, so the carbon footprint for these is greater than for foam cups. A third type of cup becoming available is compostable drinking cups. These can be made of organic materials like cornstarch, and they break down harmlessly when composted with plant and vegetable materials. Other compostable eating utensils are available, like forks and knives, but they can be more expensive to purchase. As we found with shopping bags, an alternative to disposable cups is to use washable glass, plastic, ceramic, or metal drinking containers. When we wash them we use some energy and water, but we do not have to make them over and over and we create less of a problem with waste. As you study the carbon footprint for any of the items in your everyday life, remember that there are misconceptions about what choices are better for the environment. New products and ideas are being created every day, and it’s important to do a little research to be sure that you make the best choices.

©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Aluminum Can Life Cycle Comparison Several steps are needed to create a new product. When we use recycled materials we eliminate several steps, and the reduction of processes and transportation means less energy is used during the life cycle. This also results in fewer emissions of carbon dioxide due to electricity use and transportation.

Non-Recycled Aluminum Can Life Cycle CO2 from smelting aluminum

CO2 from mining/refining process

CO2 from transport

Mining and Refining

CO2 from transport


Can Factory

CO2 from transport

CO2 from transport

CO2 from transport

School Vending Machine

Bottling Plant

Landfill ELECTRICITY Fossil Fuel Power Plant

CO2 from generating electricity

Recycled Aluminum Can Life Cycle CO2 from reprocessing aluminum

CO2 from transport

CO2 from transport

CO2 from transport

Aluminum Reclamation Plant


Bottling Plant

School Vending Machine Recycling Facility

ELECTRICITY Fossil Fuel Power Plant

CO2 from generating electricity

CO2 from transport

In the U.S., 100 billion aluminum beverage cans are produced annually; a little more than half of those are returned for recycling. The energy used to make one aluminum beverage can is about 7,000 Btu. Recycling saves 95 percent of the energy it would take to make new metal from ore. It takes about 60 days for aluminum beverage containers to be recycled and reappear on store shelves. Data: Alcoa

Every product you use has a life cycle and associated carbon dioxide impacts before and after its use. With a little research you can find out where the energy use and CO2 emissions occur. Try to draw a life cycle chart like the one above for some other items you use at home or at school. Ask yourself where the product, or water, or energy comes from. Then think about where the product, or water, or energy goes when you are done using it. ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Carbon In My Life Survey Discuss the items below. Are these occurrences happening at your school? Do you think that CO2 emissions are involved (yes or no)? Brainstorm additional items observed at your school that you think can be improved upon. OBSERVED ITEM TO STUDY





Cans and bottles are being used, then thrown in the trash. Paper and cardboard recycling occurs at school. Parents’ cars are seen idling in morning and afternoon. Buses are often idling for a long time. Sprinklers are watering areas without grass and running too long. Lights in the gym are left on all day. Computers are left on when not being used. Students are encouraged to bike and walk to school. The cafeteria uses disposable plates, cups, and utensils. Classrooms are too cold on hot days, too warm in the winter. Schools distribute lots of paper handouts. Classrooms and offices are equipped with occupancy sensors. Vending machines are using energy, creating trash. Science class goes through a lot of disposable batteries. Students bring their lunch in disposable bags and containers. Waste material that could be composted is sent to a landfill. Other: Other: Other: Other:


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Carbon In My Life Study Items Think about all of the ways carbon cycles in and out of your life. What products do you use on a daily basis? What do you eat? What types of energy (electrical or natural gas) and water uses do you have? How do you travel? List a few items in each column. CONSUMABLE PRODUCTS I USE





Your team should discuss each of these items and try to identify opportunities to implement changes in their use that might lower the carbon footprint. ? Critical Questions 

1. Does this item apply at school, at home, or at both? 2. Does taking action require individual action or group cooperation? 3. What obstacles might be encountered in taking action to lower the carbon footprint of this item? 4. Select four or five items, one from each category above, to study using the Item Analysis Organizer on page 42. 5. Develop an action plan for one or more items studied using the Questionnaire, page 43, and Action Planner, page 44. ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Carbon In My Life Item Analysis Organizer Answer the questions in this organizer to find opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint. Item: _______________________________________________________________________________________ What purpose does this item serve? ____________________________________________________________

Can you do without this item?


NO If item is essential, is there a better, less carbon intensive way to meet the same need?


Item is not essential: Explain how not using it will save energy or lower your energy carbon footprint.

Describe an alternative way to meet this need and how it will lower your carbon footprint.

NO Is there a better source for this item, a renewable, more local, or more efficient source?


Describe the alternative source and how it will lower your carbon footprint.


Explain your plan to use less of this item and how it will lower your carbon footprint.


Describe your suggestion for proper disposal and how it will lower your carbon footprint.

NO Can you use less of this item?

NO Is this item being wasted or disposed of carelessly?

NO If you answered "NO" to every question, select a different item to study until you can answer “YES” to one of the questions. Once you’ve identified items that offer an opportunity to conserve energy or reduce your carbon footprint, complete pages 43 and 44 to develop an Action Plan.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Carbon In My Life Questionnaire You can lower your carbon footprint if you learn to ask these questions of every thing you use: Is it essential, do I have to use it or can I live without it? What purpose does it serve, what need does it fill? Can I fill that need in a different way? If I have to use it, can I use less of it or use it more wisely? Where does it come from, and is there a better or more local source for it? When I’m done with this item, where does it go, is it recycled or reused? Choose one item from each category on page 41. Use this questionnaire to analyze your use of the product and think about what steps you might take in order to lessen your own carbon footprint. Compose detailed answers on a separate piece of paper. Item description: ________________________________________________________________________ Need met: ______________________________________________________________________________ Item’s current energy use impact: ___________________________________________________________ Item’s current CO2 impact: _________________________________________________________________ Complete as many of the questions below as apply to the item being studied: This item comes from (what materials, where): ___________________________________________________ An alternate source is: ____________________________________________________________________ The energy needed would be lower because: _________________________________________________ The CO2 impact would be lower because: _____________________________________________________ Other ways I could meet the same need include: _________________________________________________ The energy needed would be lower because: _________________________________________________ The CO2 impact would be lower because: _____________________________________________________ Ways to use less of this item include: ___________________________________________________________ The energy needed would be lower because: _________________________________________________ The CO2 impact would be lower because: _____________________________________________________ Where this item goes after it’s used is: __________________________________________________________ An alternative for this item after it is used: ____________________________________________________ Energy is saved because: __________________________________________________________________ The CO2 impact might be lower because: _____________________________________________________ Actions I can take include: ____________________________________________________________________ Actions others can take include: _______________________________________________________________ If you are unable to find ways to lower energy use or the CO2 impact, select another item to analyze. When you’ve found ways to lower energy use or CO2 impact, complete the Action Planner on the next page. ©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Carbon In My Life Action Planner Select one of the items analyzed that offers an opportunity for you to reduce your personal carbon footprint or the carbon footprint of your school. Use this planner to plan and execute your carbon reduction strategy. Compose detailed answers on a separate piece of paper. Item Description: __________________________________________________________________________ Problem Description: _______________________________________________________________________ How is energy related to this item? How is CO2 related to this item? How are behaviors and choices related to this item? The action you plan to take: What you need to learn before you can take action? Who might need to give permission for you to take this action? Who can help you make this action successful? List any difficulties you might encounter: What will determine “success” for your action and when will success be met? Explain how this action might save money, cost money, or have no financial impact. Does action on this item give you ideas for other items to study? List these below. Describe how you could encourage others to take similar actions. Develop a timeline for each step you plan to take. Take notes and document your progress in your science notebook.


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Climate Systems  Concepts Each of the components listed below affects the atmosphere, which in turn affects the other components of the climate system.

Some Components of the Climate System Animals Atmosphere Coal Coal Plants Crops Economy Energy Efficiency/Conservation

Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage Mining Natural Earth Events Nuclear Plant Oceans People

Petroleum Refineries Soil Solar Energy Transportation Trees

Procedure Atmosphere has been filled in for you. Select five (5) other components from the list above and write them in the bubbles on the right. On the lines between the bubbles, write how the atmosphere affects the climate system component, and how the component affects the atmosphere, using the arrows as a guide.


©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


Glossary air quality atmosphere atom biofuel biomass chemical energy climate coal coastal region commercial sector compact fluorescent light (CFL) distribution line elastic energy electrical energy electrical power generation sector electricity energy energy conservation 46

the way we describe the cleanliness of air; clean air has good air quality and dirty air has poor air quality the layer of air that surrounds and covers the land and oceans of Earth the tiniest piece of matter from which everything else is made transportation fuel made from living things, such as algae or agricultural wastes energy source from living or recently living things, like wood, crop wastes, and garbage the energy stored in the bonds between atoms within atoms, such as in food or gasoline the way we describe what one can expect from the weather in a certain location; a climate describes the averages of many, many years of weather measurements hard, black, somewhat shiny energy source found underground formed over millions of years from dead swamp plants area of land near oceans, along the sea shore, or coast part of the economy describing where people work and learn, such as businesses, government buildings, and schools light bulb type made from a hollow tube that has been bent into a twirly shape so it fits inside a regular light fixture thick, heavy, electrical wire that brings electricity from transmission lines to neighborhoods or buildings energy stored when something is compressed or stretched, such as pushing on a spring or pulling on a rubber band energy of moving electrons the part of the economy that produces electrical power for the other sectors to use moving electrons through a conductor to do work the ability to do work or make a change; energy allows us to do work or make changes behaviors that save energy

©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

energy technology that saves energy efficiency energy sources places or substances that give us the energy we need EnergyStar a program in the US Department of Energy that identifies which devices use the least amount of energy to perform their tasks equator imaginary line that runs around the middle of the Earth and divides it into northern or southern halves fossil fuel energy source made from things that once lived long ago; the fossil fuels are coal, natural gas, petroleum, and propane gasoline transportation fuel used by cars, vans, and small buses and trucks that is made from petroleum generator device that changes spinning motion energy into electricity geothermal thermal energy from deep within the Earth energy gravitational energy stored when something is held up against gravitational force, such energy as a rock at the top of a hill or a child at the top of a slide greenhouse the way the atmosphere protects us from extremely high temperatures effect during the day and extremely low temperatures during the night halogen a special gas that makes incandescent bulbs a little more efficient heat also known as thermal energy, heat is what allows atoms and molecules to move and makes us feel warm hydropower energy found in moving water that is used mostly to generate electricity incandescent when something gets hot enough that it glows, it is incandescent; an incandescent light gets so hot that the filament, or wire inside, glows industrial the part of the economy responsible for making things like cars, cement, sector and gasoline kinetic energy energy of movement latitude imaginary lines that run around the Earth parallel to the equator that are used to help with navigation and location light energy that moves in waves from one point to another; light is another way to talk about one kind of radiant energy light-emitting a tiny, solid chip that gets very bright when electricity moves through it; diode (LED) LED light bulbs are the most efficient bulbs we can buy today magnet an object with electrons whose spins are lined up, that will move in a magnetic field magnetic field imaginary lines of force that show us where a magnet will make another magnet, or a charged particle like an electron, move motion energy energy of all things moving, like a child running or the wind

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


natural gas nonrenewable

invisible, odorless gas from deep within the Earth left over from plants and animals that lived long ago; natural gas is used for generating electricity and heating homes energy sources that cannot be made over again in a short amount of time

nuclear energy

energy from the nucleus of an atom


thick, dark liquid from deep within the Earth left over from marine plants and animals that lived long ago; petroleum is used for transportation fuels like gasoline and diesel and for making plastic products the electricity used by a device even when it is turned off

phantom load potential energy propane radiant energy renewable residential sector sectors smart strip

stored energy invisible, odorless gas from processing natural gas and petroleum that is used in barbecue grills and for heating fuel in many rural homes energy that moves from one source to another in waves, such as sunlight or radio waves things that can be made over again in a short amount of time, or whose supply never runs out the part of the economy that describes where people live sectors are parts or sections

solar energy

object with many power outlets (plugs) that turns off many objects when one main device, like a TV, is turned off energy from the sun

sound energy

vibrations from things smacking or rubbing together

thermal energy the internal energy of atoms and molecules that allows them to move; thermal energy makes us feel warm, melts ice, and keeps water from freezing transmission thick, heavy, electrical wire suspended high on towers that carries electricity line over great distances turbine machine that takes the energy of moving fluids, like steam, water, or air, and changes it into rotational motion energy to turn a generator uranium element found in many different rocks that produces nuclear energy; uranium is a nonrenewable energy source used to generate electricity weather measurements and descriptions of what is happening outside in a specific, short time period, such as temperature, rainfall, snowfall, cloud cover, etc. wind air moving outside because of uneven heating of the Earth; wind is a renewable energy source


©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

Games, Puzzles, and Activities Looking for some fun energy activities? There are plenty of fun games, puzzles, and activities available at


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©2020 The NEED Project



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U.S. Energy Geography

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©2020 The NEED Project Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide

©2020 The NEED Project

Energy, Climate, and You Student Guide


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