Lesson Plan: Deliberation - What should the US policy be towards the use of fossil fuels?

Climate Change as an Energy Challenge

Fatih Birol, Executive Director of International Energy Agency, describes the current state of world carbon emissions and alternative, clean technologies.

Description

Now that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, the Senate must decide how to meet targets of carbon emissions. The question is how much do we focus on alternative energy sources that do not use fossil fuels versus focus on technological innovations such as technologies for carbon capture and removal. Listen to the presentations at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing on Climate Change, decide what policy you think the United States should pursue, and make a case for your chosen policy.

Procedures

  • SET-UP:

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning. It can be completed in steps as a class or students can move at their own pace and complete the activities independently.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handout and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following document for students to use with this lesson.

    Handout with Questions: What should the US policy be towards the use of fossil fuels? (Google Doc)

    In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.

  • INTRODUCTION:

    To activate prior knowledge and ensure that students understand key concepts necessary to understand the videos, discuss with students:

    • What are fossil fuels?

    • What is the connection between fossil fuels and climate change? (What are carbon emissions and why do they matter?)

    • How does the Paris Climate Agreement attempt to address this connection?

    • What ways can we reduce carbon in the atmosphere?
  • EXPLORATION:

    Students watch video clips on the presentations to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and take notes on the handout.

    Video Clip 1 : Climate Change as an Energy Challenge (4:13)

    Fatih Birol, Executive Director of International Energy Agency, describes the current state of world carbon emissions and alternative, clean technologies.

    • How is climate change an energy challenge?

    • Who are the major emitters?

    • In what two ways does China lead the world?

    • What technologies are ready for the markets? What are the limits of these technologies?

    • What kinds of innovations are needed to reach our climate goals?

    • What are the global implications for changes in energy policies?
  • Video Clip 2: Climate Change and Carbon Emissions in the United States (4:13)

    Richard Newell, President and CEO of Resources for the Future, explains the cause of climate change and how US sectors contribute to carbon emissions and how they are reducing emissions.

    • According to Richard Newell, what seems to be the cause of climate change?

    • What countries are the largest emitters of carbon emissions?

    • What do carbon emissions come from?

    • Why have US carbon emissions declined since 2005?

    • Which other sectors produce carbons? What are the challenges to reducing carbon emissions in these sectors?

    • What are some promising technologies?
  • Video Clip 3: Status on Limiting Global Temperature Rise (5:33)

    Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Energy, Environment and Ecology, speaks to the status of the global temperature rise and steps China has taken.

    • What does Dr. Hsu mean by the “narrow window to limit global temperature rise”?

    • What is the economic case for the move away from fossil fuels?

    • Why do we need to make greater efforts now to decrease emissions according to Angel Hsu?

    • What has China pledged and why is that significant? How can they achieve that?
  • Video Clip 4: Costs of Not Transitioning to a Low Carbon Economy (3:49)

    Sen. Angus King (I-ME) discusses the reasons why the effects of climate change are too significant to not change our energy use.

    • What is different about our current CO2 emissions compared to historical emissions?

    • How have sea levels changed over the centuries?

    • How has ice in the arctic changed?

    • What is the cost of NOT transitioning?
  • Video Clip 5: Innovate Rather Than Eliminate Fossil Fuel (3:27)

    Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) explains that it is unrealistic to focus on eliminating fossil fuels and we should instead encourage innovation of alternative energy sources.

    • Why does Senator Barrasso think eliminating fossil fuel production will not solve the problem?

    • What is the change in US carbon emissions in the last 15 years?

    • What is the change in China's carbon emissions in the same period?

    • Why are developing countries using more carbon?

    • What does Senator Barrasso suggest is the best strategy to reduce global emissions?
  • Video Clip 6: Alternative Energy and Mining (5:11)

    Mark Mills, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, explains how increased reliance on wind, solar and batteries leads to increased mining.

    • In what ways do wind, solar and battery power contribute to emissions?

    • What does the United States import? Because we import these technologies, what are we now ‘exporting’?

    • According to Dr. Mills, by following the plan for the Paris Agreement, what effect will this have on mining?

    • Why would we want to keep some mining operations in the United States?
  • CONCLUDING ACTIVITY:

    After discussing the information presented in the videos, students will develop an argument for their chosen energy policy for the United States using evidence from the videos and additional outside resources.

    Students will respond to the following prompt:

    What should the U.S. energy policy be to meet our carbon emissions goals? How much should we focus on alternative energy sources that do not use fossil fuels versus technologies for carbon capture and removal?

  • EXTENSION ACTIVITY:

    Using the link below, students can research their own, or an assigned state, evaluate its energy use. and decide which type of energy policy their chosen state would prefer.

    U.S. States Rankings (U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA)

Additional Resources

Vocabulary

  • Carbon Emissions
  • Climate Change
  • Energy Policy
  • Fossil Fuels
  • Greenhouse Gas
  • Mining
  • Paris Climate Agreement
  • Renewable Energy
  • Solar Power
  • Wind Power

Topics

Environmental Policy & Land UseForeign PolicyScience & Technology

Grades

High SchoolUniversity