Climate control drives most energy use in the built environment in the United States. Humans like to be comfortable, and they use energy to cool or heat the interior of their homes if they can afford it. One method to estimate the amount of energy required for climate control is the total of heating degree-days and cooling degree-days.
Temperature is the weather metric most obviously associated with human comfort, but humidity is the real key. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the form of water vapor in the air all around us, and it really affects how we feel in the weather. Meteorologists use the term relative humidity, which refers to the ratio of water vapor actually in the air compared to how much water vapor air can hold.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that individual homes can achieve a 10% reduction in heating and cooling costs by leveraging the power of the programmable thermostat to change the set temperature by 7°F to 10°F for 8 hours a day.¹ Working as a group or a class, use students' preferences on comfort and what they know about weather and temperature trends to create a schedule for a programmable thermostat.
Every step involved in producing bottled water—from treating the water, making the bottles, and shipping it to its final destination—requires energy, and both the water’s quality and its location affect the amount of energy embedded in the process.
Humans have been seeking comfort since before recorded history. From the very earliest human dwellings to the mastery of fire, so many technologies are about keeping warm and cool. The advent of air conditioning is only the last line in a long story about humans taking control of their built environment.
Before beginning this activity, you may want to consider moving through Modes of Transportation or Modeling Public Transportation in order to gain familiarity with the topic at hand. The purpose of this activity is to model geographically how a public transportation system works in your town, neighborhood, or region. This is a mapping activity appropriate for groups or individuals.
In 2017, the Washington Post pulled together a national analysis of driving distance limitations imposed by traffic during rush hour. Based on the hypothetical scenario of attempting to drive away from a downtown area in America's largest cities, contributor Sahil Chinoy produced a series of graphic representations of the distance achievable when leaving at three different times.
Students should be able to identify that irrespective of differences in tract size, the Desert Southwest has a higher percentage of food deserts than the Northeast. Similarly, the Deep South and Southeast has a higher proportion of food deserts than the Upper Midwest.
The Sun is the ultimate source of energy for almost all processes on Earth, from weather and climate to fossil fuels to the energy students need to get out of bed or run around the track. This activity relies on deep questions and critical thought to trace the ultimate source of energy on Earth to the sun.
Despite advances, today the global economy consumes most of its energy through only four technologies: the steam turbine, gas turbine, gasoline engine and diesel engine. The most popular conversion device is the steam turbine.
Even in places where it is easy to recycle because of school-wide or community-wide initiatives, many people are confused about what and where to recycle. Students can help other students by creating instructive visual signage for waste collection areas.
Students bring their lunch to school for lots of reasons, dislike of school food, special diet, to fit in with other kids, etc. Many times at home, parents have the greatest of intentions when making or purchasing the food that goes into those lunches.
This activity focuses on the “reuse” theme of reduce-reuse-recycle. Students collect waste materials (paper, bottles, cans, cardboard tubes, fabric, etc) and find other uses for them either practically, for a school project, or as art objects.
Students may watch the garbage people come by and think that their waste magically disappears. Some may have been to the dump with a parent and some may have a compost pile or “dump” of their own on their land.
We use energy for everything and could not make it through a single day without it. But we rarely even think about how much we use, what kinds of energy there are, the cost, or the pollution consequences.