You may not think of glaciers very often. After all, to the average person, they are little more than giant chunks of ice floating around somewhere far away. And in a sense, those who think this are correct. A glacier is fundamentally nothing more than the accumulation of snow compacted over thousands of years to become solid ice. The ice’s density allows the glaciers to float slowly, creating massive rivers of ice that can, over centuries, carve and reshape entire landscapes. Yet, they do much more than float around and break down rocks. Their role in Earth’s delicate environment is much more significant than one might initially consider.
How do glaciers impact the environment?
Glaciers hold 68.7% of the total freshwater found on Earth and can be found primarily in polar regions. In fact, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), 91% of glaciers are found in Antarctica, while the rest float around in regions like Greenland, Alaska, South America, and New Zealand. These giant masses of ice supply fresh running water to the environment as they slowly melt throughout warmer, dryer seasons. This allows for life to flourish and survive harsh conditions year around. Additionally, as glacial water melts, its exceptionally cold temperature creates a dense body of water compared to the rest of the ocean. This allows it to sink to the bottom of the sea and travel south. As this happens, the warmer water that’s had some time to heat up with the sun and the atmosphere rises to the top and heads to the poles, primarily the North pole, where it will freeze and sink over time. This constant movement of water is what brings us ocean currents.
If a glacier is unable to replenish its volume at the same rate as it melts, the quantity of water being released into the ocean will substantially increase. This has led to a rise in the Earth’s sea level, resulting in extreme and abnormal flooding in coastal regions. In some cases, such as the Solomon Islands, these ecosystems and communities have already begun to disappear entirely. Those who survive the floods, rains, and hurricanes are often left displaced and with millions of dollars worth of damages.
Tides and currents
As glaciers melt at increasing rates, not only does the sea level rise, the water becomes more even in temperature. This means that some of the extremely cold water that would usually sink to the bottom of the ocean and travel south is no longer cold enough to do so. Without these temperature changes, ocean currents cannot move at the same rate as before, slowing down or stopping ocean currents altogether in some areas. Consequently, the warmth normally brought to the northern hemisphere from southern regions does not make the trip, leading to dangerous, extreme temperatures and weather patterns that exacerbate climate change.
How can you help keep glaciers intact? The release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere primarily contributes to the Earth’s rising atmospheric temperature. As a consumer, the impact of the manufacturing, agricultural, and production processes of the products we consume should be considered before buying. This means opting for products that require less processing and energy, using transportation that releases less or ideally no greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and eating foods that are produced using sustainable practices. There are more sustainable ways to create and use energy, which is essential for the survival of the world’s glaciers and a more sustainable future. Visit Smart Energy Education, Watt Watchers and Resourcefulness.org to learn more about our energy resources and how you can make a difference.
The importance of clean energy and a healthy environment is everywhere nowadays. The average person is likely to encounter at least one campaign advocating for green practices through content on social media, advertisements, or even through their school or work. Vocabulary like conservation, sustainability, and efficiency are used repeatedly and often interchangeably. However, to truly grasp the goals of ecological movements and campaigns, understanding what each one means can come in handy. In light of new information surrounding green energy and sustainable practices, people around the globe are fighting to be part of the conversation. So what is the difference? And how can one get the most out of their conservation, sustainability, and efficiency efforts?
Conservation in the context of energy and environmental movements refers to the actions that reduce energy consumption and, over time, reduce or eliminate waste—for example, taking shorter showers, turning off the lights when you leave a room empty, and turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth. By conserving the available energy, you can avoid overconsumption and save water, fossil fuels, natural gas, or other forms of energy that would have otherwise gone down the drain without being put to good use.
Sustainability can be defined as practices that ensure the longevity and accessibility of the resources used over time. For example, a fishing company that considers the fishes’ migratory patterns and mating seasons to avoid overfishing and ensure the survival of enough fish for generations to come is implementing sustainable practices. Similarly, clothes manufacturers who use materials derived from renewable resources, like wool, cotton, or linen, can produce clothing that is less damaging to the environment, especially when the item reaches the end of its life and likely end up in a landfill. Natural fibers ensure new fibers can be grown using eco-friendly practices. This ensures they have enough new plants to produce the clothes needed to sustain their business while continuing to create a biodegradable product, unlike synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon, which can take years, even centuries, to decompose entirely.
Scientifically, efficiency is defined as the practice of using resources in such a way that you get the maximum output with the minimum input possible. For example, a car that gets 40-50 miles per gallon is much more efficient than a car that only gets 10-20 miles per gallon. In the end, both vehicles can likely drive the same distance. However, the first will do so using much less energy. Efficiency is important because it can motivate people to improve the systems they have to save money, time, and resources, improve technology and standard practices, and lend a helping hand to the environment in the process.
For more information on energy conservation, sustainability and efficiency, visit Watt Watchers and Smart Energy Education. And don’t forget to follow the Smart Energy Education Facebook page for updates on all our projects, scholarship opportunities, blog posts and more!
Prior to 1800, the population around the globe changed and grew at a relatively slow rate. The world population from 10,000 BC to 1700 only grew at a rate of about .04% annually. This growth rate remained consistent until after the 1800s. Starting at this time, however, a drastic jump can be seen on an international scale, with an increase from an estimated one billion people in 1800 to the 8 billion people who now inhabit the earth.
The world population is now eight times what it was 222 years ago. In fact, it is estimated that 6.5% of all people born in the history of humanity are alive today. Such a drastic change is astonishing and can be credited to a variety of factors. Everything from scientific breakthroughs and improved medical practices to enhanced understanding surrounding hygiene, diet, and exercise have allowed the world to expand its population like never before.
However, a unique characteristic of 1800 stands out as one of the primary factors responsible for the advances that gave us the advantages needed to grow as quickly as we did. The industrial revolution, which started in the late 1700s in Great Britain, marks a critical period for economic and technological advancement. Catapulted by the rise in coal production, the Industrial Revolution brought about a shift in the political and social tendencies of Great Britain.
As a powerful energy source, coal facilitated the production of goods, products, and transportation through machines. The rise of the steam engine and large-scale factories, for example, enabled a new economy. Subsequently, the economic power in the region was distributed more evenly, strengthening the middle class. In facilitating the way we produce products, transport goods, and people, and grow food, people around the globe were able to improve their lives. The results of modern energy included the ability for more people to survive the world’s challenging ecosystems. Consequently, paving the path towards a faster-growing population.
However, it’s important to note that economic prosperity leads to increased energy consumption. Likewise, rising population rates also lead to higher energy demand. In effect, this creates a system in which a booming economy and increasingly dense populations can often lead to the overconsumption of resources and environmental harm. With global warming, pollution, and dwindling essential resources like water, communities everywhere risk experiencing events like natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and food shortages like never before.
So, what does an 8 billion population and counting mean for the future of energy? Increased population and shifting lifestyles mean more trade, cars, flights, food, and housing necessities. However, decreased greenhouse gas emissions are needed to reduce the impact of climate change, which poses a significant danger to communities worldwide.
In a world with so many people and a yearly growing population, the need for innovative solutions, energy education, and sustainability practices are higher than ever before. The simple act of recycling and being mindful of the products you purchase, ensuring they are made responsibly, can make a huge difference. Even better, taking on an energy-related career, whether it be a four-year degree or a trade certification, can put you in a position to propel positive change from the inside.
For more information on energy, energy careers, and fun energy saving activities, visit Smart Energy Education and Watt Watchers of Texas. And don’t forget to follow the Smart Energy Education Facebook page for updates on all our projects, scholarship opportunities, blog posts and more!
Why should we care about water?
As is discussed frequently in Smart Energy Education, water and energy share a unique and important relationship. We need energy to access water, and we need water to access energy. This connection, otherwise known as the energy-water nexus, is a pillar in our societies and intimately impacts the comfortability of our lives. We use water for everything from hygiene, cleaning, and watering our lawns to the cooling of the power plants that provide us with electricity and industrial processes that manufacture the products we love. Not to mention the water used to create energy through methods like hydroelectric dams.
Additionally, water plays a key role in the health and balance of the environment. For example, as the water around the equator warms up and the water from the glaciers at the Earth’s poles melts, the warm water rises to the ocean’s surface, and the cold water sinks to the bottom, causing the ocean currents to come to life. These currents are then responsible for transporting warm water and carbon dioxide (which the ocean also absorbs from the atmosphere) more evenly around the globe.
However, as greenhouse gas emissions increase the hot air and carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere, the excess heat absorbed by the ocean’s water can warm up the glacial water to abnormally high temperatures, keeping it from sinking as it usually would. Consequently, ocean currents can slow down or even cease movement altogether. This can cause changes in weather conditions and rising sea levels, leading to natural disasters like floods, droughts, and abnormal rain patterns.
For these reasons, having a clear representation of where our water is, how much there is, where it is and where it will be in the future is essential to provide communities with a much-needed advantage.
What is the NASA SWOT Mission?
71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Yet, despite our water resources’ constant influence on our lives, data regarding water quantities are limited. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission is set to help NASA provide the very first global surface water survey. Through a satellite, researchers will be able to do everything from measuring the height of the water found on the Earth’s surface, including bodies of freshwater like rivers and lakes as well as the ocean, to collecting data on ocean features, specifically those less than sixty miles across. The spacecraft will even be able to observe in three dimensions the entire length of rivers wider than 330 feet. Additionally, they will be able to gather information on how global warming influences freshwater reservoirs, rivers, and lakes—allowing communities to better prepare in case of water-related natural disasters.
The mission, set to launch on Thursday, December 15th, has been taken on with the help of an international and multidisciplinary team including NASA, Centre National D’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), along with contributions from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and United Kingdom Space Agency. Once launched, it will initiate one of the most in-depth investigations of the world’s water resources in history.
In the face of climate change, increasing energy consumption, and an increasing population, the location, and accessibility of these essential water resources is crucial. If you are interested in learning more about water and energy, go to Smart Energy Education and Watt Watchers for resources, blogs, activities, and more! To learn more about the SWOT mission, visit their website here.
By now, we all know the story of Thanksgiving by heart. The pilgrims aboard the Mayflower arrived in America in 1620, hoping to start a new life. However, upon arriving, they found themselves ill-suited to handle the environment awaiting them. Hunger and disease ran rampant, eventually taking the lives of nearly half the settlers. That is until a member of a local native tribe decided to lend a helping hand and teach the newcomers how to grow corn, catch fish, extract maple from trees and avoid poisonous plants. Ultimately this new information gave the pilgrims the resources necessary to survive and eventually thrive in their new surroundings.
Thanksgiving is now celebrated each year to remind Americans to be thankful for their food, drinks, homes, and the kindness of others. Yet, the underlying message of this historical event is that understanding your natural resources and learning how to obtain energy from them can change lives. You can have the best soil in the world, but if you don’t know how to harvest seeds, you won’t be able to eat from the land. Likewise, you can be surrounded by trees, but if you can’t make a fire, the trees will do little to provide heat. Thanks to the knowledge the pilgrims learned from the natives about their natural resources, they were able to create a better life. Likewise thanks to modern energy, the average American can now provide elaborate dinners for their families on Thanksgiving that the pilgrims could have only dreamed of.
A modern-day Thanksgiving celebration typically involves travel to visit family, food, drinks, lights, ovens, fireplaces, speakers, and air conditioners running all day long. A huge amount of energy is involved. And with the renewed ability to gather, as we did pre-pandemic, the celebrations are expected to be over the top in 2022. However, as fun as this can be, the excessive waste that can accumulate during the Thanksgiving season is substantial.
How can you reduce your environmental impact on Thanksgiving?
Consider all the potential sources of waste that could result from your Thanksgiving celebration.
The first thing that likely comes to mind is food waste. Leftovers are great, but an excessive amount leads to food being thrown in the trash. To avoid this, be diligent and get the exact headcount of your guests, then use a food quantity calculator like the one provided by Save The Food to calculate the precise amount needed to feed your party.
Thanksgiving requires a lot of hard work from the hosts of the party. When planning your dinner, it might be tempting to replace your standard dishes with disposable plates, cups, and silverware. Yet, with plastic and paper pollution on the rise, taking the time to wash the reusable dishes you have is a great way to reduce the environmental damage Thanksgiving can cause.
Lighting and temperature control
Any party you host is likely to result in a high energy bill. This is usually due to lights being left on in unoccupied rooms and open doors letting the AC out. To avoid unnecessary energy use, consider shutting off the lights and locking the doors in rooms you don’t want people to enter. You can also make a small decorative sign to remind your guests to turn off the lights when they leave the bathroom. Additionally, if luck is on your side and the weather is nice, consider shutting off the AC and opening the doors and windows. This could be especially handy if you have a yard and people will be coming in and out as they please.
Our ability to harvest energy has changed the quality of life we can now enjoy. So this Thanksgiving, let’s not only give thanks to our family, friends and food, let’s also give thanks to the amazing natural resources that make our modern way of life possible. And more importantly, let us ensure we take the extra steps necessary to protect them and sustainably celebrate this upcoming holiday season.
For more information on energy and fun activities on saving energy in your home visit Watt Watchers and Smart Energy Education. And don’t forget to follow the Smart Energy Education Facebook page for updates on all our projects, scholarship opportunities, blog posts and more!
Every year on the 15th of November we celebrate National Recycling Day, which helps promote and educate people on the impact of recycling. It is a time to think of the future and examine the importance of conserving our natural resources while discovering creative ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and lend a helping hand to our lovely environment.
What is recycling?
If you are like most people, you likely understand that recycling is the reuse or repurposing of materials. This can mean turning a jar into a small pot for a plant, creating paper by processing old paper, or melting down metal parts from an old vehicle to make a new product. By taking the time to repurpose items that would have otherwise been thrown away, you can reduce the harsh environmental impact that our populations’ trash has on the natural world.
Why should you recycle?
Unless you work in the garbage industry or live in close proximity to a waste management facility or landfill, you likely don’t think about your trash very often. After all, it can be difficult to imagine the damage excessive waste can generate when its impacts do not cause you immediate harm. However, for companies to create all the fantastic products we enjoy daily, electricity, water, wood, metals, and chemicals are required. The energy needed to get the job done is excessive, yet, far too often, the products produced throughout these processes are dumped in the trash without a second thought.
The simple act of thinking about your goods before purchasing, that is, taking into consideration if they can be repurposed or if the materials used to manufacture them can be recycled, can make a huge difference. After all, many of our resources, like fossil fuels, natural gas, and even water, are limited and should be used with purpose and caution.
What can and can’t be recycled?
At first glance, recycling can seem like a straightforward process. However, the process required to transform old items into new products can be tricky. It’s not quite as simple as throwing paper, plastic, and glass into your local recycling bin. There are certain paper and plastic products, as well as other materials, that can’t be recycled at all. Hence the importance of purchasing products made from recyclable materials in the first place. Often you will have to separate your items into different categories and drop them off at various facilities. There’s a lot of information to learn, but there is no need to feel discouraged. To make your recycling routine as easy as possible, contact your local recycling facilities to get the rundown of what can and can’t be recycled through their program. Additionally, the EPA offers a helpful list along with various resources to help get you started.
Thankfully, recycling is slowly but surely becoming an essential pillar in our communities’ waste management strategies. In fact, according to the EPA, the recycling rate in the United States has increased from below 7% in 1960 to 32% in 2022. Such a significant increase in reuse, reduce and recycle initiatives is amazing for the environment and our natural resources. But even better, it means more people are needed to collect and process materials, leading to new opportunities for employment. In fact, the EPA estimates approximately 681,000 jobs and $37.8 billion in wages have resulted from these new activities.
If you are interested in learning more about recycling in your area, visit your local recycling facility websites, and the EPA page on recycling. Additionally, discover energy and recycling learning activities, blogs, and resources by visiting Watt Watchers and Smart Energy Education. And don’t forget to follow the Smart Energy Education Facebook page for updates on all our projects, scholarship opportunities, blog posts and more!
The city and the countryside offer distinct freedoms. In one, you have access to services nearly 24/7. You can order food to your door at three in the morning and hop on a ten-minute bus ride to your job. The other allows you free range to roam. You have room to grow and harvest food. There’s less pollution and more land. Each allows for a unique lifestyle that will seem more appealing depending on personal preferences and goals. As a society, Americans tend to think of the two as opposites that never see eye to eye. However, as different as they seem, they rely on each other and are much more connected than you might think.
The history of cities
Cities such as those found in Ancient Mesopotamia first developed around 6,000 years ago. The region had abundant natural resources and stable production of food. This was juxtaposed with the ability to access, transport, and distribute water, allowing the residents of these areas to be partially freed from the manual labor that would have otherwise consumed their time entirely. The production of goods was facilitated, and trade and exchange could thrive unlike ever before. As a side effect, cultural customs developed and expanded at a larger scale, small cities were born, and the community’s leaders acquired more power, becoming kings and queens.
Parallel to this phenomenon is the Industrial Revolution, an era that began in Great Britain and propelled the nation to wealth and prosperity. Much like the populations of Ancient Mesopotamia, access to energy resources such as coal allowed Great Britain to produce the goods that fed their economy much more efficiently through machines. They developed factories to make mass quantities of steel, iron, textiles, and other goods. Consequently, people began to migrate to the city, where job opportunities were more readily available. Large, modern cities were born, factory owners got rich, and the power began to shift away from the monarchy’s hands.
From a historical perspective, we can see that cities significantly influence wealth and power. A nation with large cities is better equipped to advance technologically and economically. Yet, they also require an immense amount of energy to function and would be unable to survive independently.
Cities and energy
Cities are like living organisms. They consume energy and produce waste through a process called “urban metabolism.” Food, water, and energy are harvested from the country and transported to the city, where they serve as fuel. For example, for Chicago to have enough energy to function effectively, it relies on the natural resources in Illinois. This includes land used to harvest wind and solar power, rivers and lakes for hydroelectric power, fossil fuels, and the food and water needed to sustain its growing population. The cities feed and grow from this energy. However, they also then have the resources to develop new technology
Cities and waste
Waste is a key factor in the relationship between cities, energy, and sustainability. If produced in overly large quantities or if not disposed of properly, it can cause severe problems for the environment. For example, excessive air conditioning on hot summer days requires tremendous energy. This energy is often used through fossil fuels which release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Consequently, the hot summer days get hotter, and even more, energy is needed to cool our homes. It’s important to remember that our energy resources are not all unlimited. Being efficient and producing less waste is essential for sustainability to be achieved.
Discover more about the connection between cities and energy by watching the Power Trip: The Story of Energy CITIES, and check out more amazing episodes here! Also available on PBS, Apple TV, and Prime Video.
To learn more about energy resources, how they influence our society, and how you can be a more responsible energy consumer, visit Smart Energy Education, Resourcefulness, and Watt Watchers of Texas! And don’t forget to follow the Smart Energy Education Facebook page for updates on all our projects, scholarship opportunities, blog posts and more!
Wealth can be described as the possessions, goods, and liberties that provide a person with a good quality of life. The more wealth a person has, the higher quality of life they can enjoy. When we think of modern wealth, we automatically picture lavish lifestyles, fancy cars, and large beautiful houses. But in reality, the well-being of a community is more complex than material goods. Wealth, security, and innovation go hand in hand. Modern energy has catapulted this aspect of our lives to new heights, uncovering new avenues for our societies to flourish.
What is energy in the context of wealth?
Energy is the fundamental element that propels the survival of our planet. Access to energy and water fuels our bodies and minds through the food and drink we consume. Similarly, water and energy allow us to improve and maintain our communities through scientific discoveries and technological advancements. Facilitated access to natural resources means more energy. More energy means more opportunities for growth and innovation.
How has energy made our modern world wealthier?
Thanks to new advancements, life today is much different than it used to be. Not too long ago, for example, the medical sector produced a much different environment than the one we see today. Thankfully, we no longer have to endure the horrors of 19th-century surgery and medicine. With access to electric lighting, operating machines, medications, antiseptics, and new technology, modern energy has provided us the opportunity to improve our lives by improving our health. A healthy population is better able to work and contribute to society, elevating the wealth of the community as a whole. This pattern is repeated and can be seen in how we produce food, manufacture goods, create modes of transportation, and much more.
How can energy improve the economic stability of impoverished and developing countries?
Energy equals time and comfortability. A machine that can plow your land in a quarter of what it would take you to do it on your own gives you the freedom to accomplish other tasks. Something as seemingly small as providing electric lighting and plumbing to an impoverished community can make a huge difference. This access to energy will allow them to do more with their time and improve their safety at night. People can study and work even when the sun goes down with electricity. Proper plumbing increases a young woman's chances of remaining in school after puberty. For these reasons, women tend to benefit the most from energy and the technology that comes with it. This pattern can be life-changing. A community with access to modern energy is more likely to have access to education, healthcare, and overall liberties that can improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, accessing energy is not always so easy. Geographic limitations, corruption, and war can make maximizing a nation's natural resources exceptionally difficult. Maintaining support for organizations such as Innovation Africa, which provide access to clean water and electric light to communities in Africa, is vital.
How can sustainable practices help maintain and improve a nation's wealth?
Thanks to the advancements in modern energy, we no longer have to put in nearly the same amount of work to get what we need to survive as we did only one hundred years ago. While this is great for innovation and advancement, communities with abundant access to modern energy are more likely to be over consumers. We currently find ourselves in a position where some communities desperately need updated energy systems and resources. This is juxtaposed with communities with ample access to energy resources who need to take a step back and conserve what they have. As a society, our goal should be to create a world in which there is a balanced distribution of wealth and a culture that encourages awareness of our natural resources and the energy they provide.
Discover more about the connection between wealth and energy by watching the Power Trip: The Story of Energy WEALTH, and check out more amazing episodes here! Also available on PBS, Apple TV, and Prime Video.
War has been a part of humanity since the beginning of civilization. We fight wars over water, land, spices, resources, and most importantly, energy. However, people often don't pay much attention to where their energy comes from. They don't see that its influence and contribution to war and national security are incredibly significant and impact everyone's daily lives.
Before modern energy, wars were fought on a much smaller scale. People were more restricted by geography and weather, so wars had to be fought during the spring for the soldiers to make it to battle. Men on horseback or foot would combat face to face with swords and other short-range weapons. In the most large-scale situations, cannons would be used to attack from a distance. In the end, the closer space required to fight meant that wars were much less destructive than today and caused death on a much smaller scale.
Increased power and larger-scale destruction are needed to combat an enemy you can't always see. Modern energy allowed armies to create machines and weapons that could attack from a much greater distance. This was first seen on a large scale during World War I through tanks, machine guns, and aerial strikes. In more recent warfare, modern technology allows armies to attack through unmanned drones, lasers, and satellite spying. The distance created by these new inventions helped keep soldiers a little farther from direct contact with the enemy. Consequently, creating an environment in which soldiers can attack without being physically close to the opposition.
This creates a cycle in which innovation fuels wars, and war fuels the need for innovation. New technology must be continually developed, and improvements must be consistently made to maintain the upper hand. All of this requires enormous amounts of energy. The production of metals to make weapons, planes, vehicles, computers, and drones require electricity, water, and fossil fuels. Feeding, housing, and transporting soldiers require energy all the same.
Energy creates wealth, prosperity, security, and health in our communities. It is essential to our modern-day life, making it something we can use not only to protect ourselves but also as an incentive to go to battle in the first place. This is especially the case for limited resources like oil and natural gas. The importance of resources like oil has made many leaders realize that one of the most effective ways to impede a nation's ability to fight and defend itself is to attack and limit its access to energy resources.
The days of hand-to-hand combat are long gone. Heavy reliance on foreign nations for natural resources has led to conflict time and time again. A nation's security relies on its ability to depend on its own energy. The diversification of energy resources, that's to say, the use of a combination of solar, water, fossil fuels, etc., instead of complete reliance on one form of energy, can make a considerable difference regarding security. Additionally, the diversification of resources creates a much more sustainable system in which the nation can operate at a much more efficient level, and the environmental impact is reduced.
In the end, energy is tied to everything. It provides us with our modern-day life and economy, facilitates the health and education of our populations, and has proven to be something worth fighting for. It is something we must use wisely and protect. The US military works hard to use its energy resources carefully and efficiently to maintain the nation's security. The civilians of a country should strive to do the same. Becoming a smarter energy consumer and making an effort to live a greener lifestyle should be a priority always.
Before modern modes of transportation like cars, planes, and ships, travel was drastically different. Long-distance travel was highly energy-intensive. People were unlikely to voyage very far from their birthplace. Moving away from home was only considered under extreme circumstances. Having to rely on animals or sometimes just your own strength to carry you along the way meant your voyage could easily last days or months. You were likely to run into robbers, storms, and other obstacles that made these voyages not only dangerous but expensive.
Thankfully, innovation and technology have successfully allowed us to innovate our way past the good old days of utilizing manpower and animal power to get around. With the help of modern energy, we can now cross entire oceans and continents in hours. Not only that, these new modes of transportation have brought with them the development of complex industries. Travel lifestyles, car culture, and online shopping are all side effects of modern transportation. With growing waste and contamination from this newfound easy access to travel and products, demand for efficiency and sustainability has begun to pressure the transportation industry to make a few changes. The need for new inventions and ideas is greater now than ever before. So how exactly is transportation connected to energy? And how does this relationship influence our daily lives?
Energy and transportation
The connection between transport, energy, and the environment is relatively straightforward on the surface. If you own a car, you need gas or electricity to get where you need to go. This requires access to fossil fuels and/or renewable resources. Not to mention the land required for roads and highways or the natural resources used in the systems to manufacture and dispose of vehicles. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the transportation of people and goods accounted for 28% of the total U.S energy consumption in 2021. Energy is involved in every step of the process. Knowing the energy intensity of the transportation systems you use is essential if you want to make a difference.
Everyone has to have a method to move around. You might live in a city where walking or biking is a reasonable alternative to standard vehicle transportation. In which case, you can sleep well knowing you made an effort to make a difference and got a little exercise simultaneously. However, there are a couple more things to consider for those who have to travel longer distances. You might think driving an EV will always be cleaner than a gas car. But if the electricity used to power the EV is derived from fossil fuels, it may not be as eco friendly as you think. When purchasing a new vehicle, consider your local source of electricity. Make sure to compare fuel efficiency and ask about any green features. Sustainability starts with thoughtfulness, so keep the environmental consequences of your vehicle in mind. Both when you purchase and when you choose to drive.
Public transportation is one of the most effective ways to become a more efficient energy consumer. Something as simple as riding the bus to work can reduce traffic congestion, air and sound pollution, and the need for road expansions. Increased ridership improves the energy-saving power of our public transportation systems. So by making public transportation a part of your routine you can actually help to supply funds to improve these systems and make them more efficient. So catch the bus when you can, you can help out the environment and save some gas money all in one.
Goods and services
Transportation involves much more than the movement of people. In fact, the EIA reported that heavy trucks and buses, which primarily transport materials and consumer goods, accounted for 18% of US energy consumption in 2019. These modes of transportation are reserved primarily for materials and consumer goods. The maximization of our transportation systems has allowed us to move everything from food and water to consumer goods over much longer distances. The convenience of having access to products from around the world may be rewarding at the moment. However, the ecological impact of the trucks, boats, and trains that carry these products to your door can be more severe than you imagine. Buying local products reduces the demand for the use of transport methods that contaminate our environment. We can then conserve our resources and allocate them to sectors of our society that need them more.
With the rise of new technology, keeping up with our growing energy demand without dwindling our natural resources requires strategic planning. It is a responsibility we only recently started to take seriously. Much-needed improvements need to be made to reach sustainability. Thankfully, we have a lot to look forward to. Fantastic new jobs and career opportunities have been developed due to this new awareness and have become an essential part of travel and transportation. Change starts with our personal choices, so carpool and use public transportation when you can, and be thoughtful about the world's energy resources when purchasing new products.
Our relationship with food has changed dramatically over the history of humanity. We have shifted over time from hunter-gatherer communities to farmers to modern-day consumers. You may not think much about where our food comes from or how it's produced. Yet, how we acquire our food influences our routines in more ways than most people imagine. Not too long ago, the food options we had at our disposal were limited to the geographic resources of our region and the time of year.
Modern energy has successfully facilitated the production and distribution of produce and meat products on a larger scale than ever before. Our society seems to no longer be subject to regional or seasonal limitations. Consequently, we have developed a food culture of overconsumption. But how exactly is food correlated with energy? And why is building a sustainable food system so important?
What is energy?
Energy is the propeller of all the processes we need to function in our daily lives. From the food and water we consume and cars we drive to the medicines we use in our hospitals and clinics. We need energy to survive on the most foundational levels. Still, we can and have also used energy to improve our lives by improving the systems we use for food production, transportation, medicine, and technology. We now use our energy resources for much more than our basic necessities. Solar energy, for example, powers our food system through photosynthesis, cellular function, and the water cycle, and our modern technology systems through solar panels that create electricity.
How is water connected to energy?
Often referred to as the energy-water nexus, the connection between water and energy results from needing water resources to create energy and energy to access water. Electricity, for example, is often produced through dams and hydroelectric plants. Water is also used to cool power plants and extract fossil fuels. On the other hand, access to fresh water, as an unlimited resource, requires an incredible amount of energy. Often, communities face obstacles due to geographic, economic, and political factors. They then have to resort to purification plants, water importation, or desalination processes to ensure they have enough water to sustain their population's demand. For more information regarding the energy-water nexus, check out our blog here!
What is the food-water-energy nexus?
On a basic level, the relationship between our food system and energy resources can be seen through the solar energy and water that allows plants to go through photosynthesis, providing produce for ourselves and the livestock we eat. However, energy is also embedded in our food system in less obvious ways. This relationship is referred to as the food-water-energy nexus and can be seen in all aspects of our lives.
Take something as simple as a grilled chicken salad, for example. A salad like this could include chicken, green leaves, onion, cherry tomatoes, and dressing. Such a basic ingredient list might not seem to require an incredible amount of energy. Yet, each ingredient requires a certain amount of land, water, and fertilizers to grow. Food producers will need fossil fuels to harvest, process, package, and ship the products. Electricity, water, and fuel will be required to refrigerate and cook the ingredients, which will then be presented to you as a grilled chicken salad. Now say you order the salad but find that you aren't that hungry. You decide to throw half the salad away, wasting valuable resources as you do so.
Our societies, specifically those with more wealth and access to resources, are not aware of the consequences of their actions. We have become far too accustomed to the facilitated access to anything we want, whenever we want. Buying large amounts of food and letting them go to waste in the fridge is common. Throwing away a portion of your meal at a restaurant is a regular habit for many. Still, the complex processes needed to produce the foods we love are excessively energy-intensive. We need our energy resources for much more than food. Therefore, being aware of our food production and consumption habits is paramount for sustainability.
What can you do to reduce waste and conserve the world's energy resources?
As a modern-day food consumer, there are many things you can do to help! Think of the number of times you've bought a package of spinach and then failed to finish the bag. It happens to the best of us. But taking the initiative and only buying products you are confident you will consume can make a huge difference. Additionally, everyone should make an effort to do their research. There is much to learn about the source of our food products, the production habits and sustainability efforts of agricultural organizations and the energy needed to produce certain products.
In our modern world, we use water for almost everything in our daily lives. We even have an entire day dedicated to celebrating water. Kindred to its relationship with the natural world, it is fundamentally one of the pillars that allow our bodies and communities to thrive and function. Without it, our survival would be impossible. However, as large and endless as our oceans, lakes, and rivers may seem, water is not unlimited. The sustainable use of our water resources is critical. And the ability to maximize their potential is essential for our way of life.
The problem of access to water is more complicated than it might seem. A significant amount of energy is needed to obtain, treat, desalinate and transport water. Consequently, creating a double-edged sword. So why does water seem to come so quickly to our homes if it takes so much energy? And what actions can we take to conserve our water resources?
A little over one hundred years ago, access to running water in homes was not very common. People had to rely on wells and outhouses to accomplish what we can now in our bathrooms. Through the infrastructural development of sewer and pipe systems, modern-day energy facilitated the transportation of water to our homes. However, proper infrastructure does not remove all obstacles. Providing the water to run through the pipes in these systems has its challenges. Depending on the geography of your community, the process required to gain fresh water will change. Ranging from simply pumping the water from a lake or river to water treatment and desalination facilities, providing fresh water to a community can be very difficult.
The average person uses an estimated 400 liters of water per day. You likely don't witness so much water go down the drain in your home with your own eyes. Yet, it's essential to understand that the water we use goes far beyond what we see. Many don't realize the vast need for water in all the other sectors of our society. Otherwise known as the Energy-Water Nexus, we rely on energy to access water and water to access energy. Agricultural practices, the production of clothes, electricity, even power plant temperature control, and raw material extractions rely on water.
Additionally, the process of treating, transporting and collecting water often requires electricity and other energy resources. Consequently, every time you buy new clothes, turn on the lights or drive your car, you consume water and every time you consume water you also consume other forms of energy. Unfortunately, due to our relationship with our energy resources, most of us miss the consequences of these actions. The closely intertwined relationship between water and energy means that you can't have one without another. Excessive water use risks leaving water contaminated, increases the risk of drought and negatively impacts the environment. We additionally run the risk of being unable to support juxtaposing energy systems, leaving us vulnerable to the possibility of lacking sufficient energy in the future.
Entire civilizations, historically, have fallen due to lack of water, and the modern-day political environment continues to be drastically influenced by the energy-water nexus. As a society, we have become very comfortable indulging in the resources available. The disconnect has grown. However, awareness of the effect our actions have on our resources could help us get through the obstacles we face today.
In the following years, water demand will only increase, but our water supply will not keep pace. Sustainability and water conservation practices are more critical in our modern world than ever before. Today's parents, leaders, and educators have an increasingly significant job to teach younger generations how to conserve water and help create a more sustainable tomorrow.
For more information on how you and your students can save water and energy at school or at home, check out the fantastic resources at Smart Energy Education, which includes Watt Watchers and Resourcefulness.
We'd love to help answer any questions and help you get started! Drop us a line and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.
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