The Science of Sustainability

Return to

Energy and a Sustainable Future

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

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

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

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

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

Pre-viewing Questions

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

Focus Questions for Viewing

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

Post-viewing Questions

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

Extension Activity

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

Links to Learn More

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

NGSS Correlations

Performance Expectation: Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century. MS-ESS3-5
Disciplinary Core Idea: Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as human behavior, and applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. ESS3.D Global Climate Change
Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and effect
Science and Engineering Practices: Constructing explanations and designing solutions


Explore: , , , , , , ,

Category: Climate, Education, Energy, Environment, Health

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email
George Viebranz

About the Author ()

George Viebranz is a mathematics and science content specialist with ideastream’s Education Division. He spent 32 years as a mathematics and science teacher and curriculum supervisor before joining ideastream. He has worked on more than 50 television and radio productions focusing on the improvement of K-12 mathematics, science, engineering and technology education.
  • alidaxla627

    My Uncle Jacob got a year 2013 Audi TT RS
    Coupe by working part time online. imp source B­i­g­2­9­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Jim Wiegand

    Excellent post. Wind energy is a hideous business that has been thriving on fraud for decades. If it were not for this fraud and industry collusion with the Interior Department it would have been determined that many of the golden eagles being killed on the West coast are from far northern populations. I am an expert on eagles and would like to add some other turbine related eagle killing facts that have been kept from the public.

    In California the current FWS estimated wind turbine mortality to golden eagles from about 3000 MW of installed wind energy capacity is 109 per year. Pay attention to this………….. About 60 of these golden eagles killed annually are from the wind projects at Pacheco Pass, Montezuma hills and the wind turbines in the Tehachapi region. These mortality totals would be much higher with proper studies, especially at Altamont Pass where new estimating factors and undersized carcass search areas have been put in place that have lowered the "official" reported golden eagle mortality.

    These are golden eagles killed outside of Altamont Pass and the turbines further south in CA are not included.
    The fact is wind turbines placed in eagle habitat kill eagles. Anyone that says otherwise is part of the fraud. In the Western States of California, Idaho,
    Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Wyoming and
    Washington, most of the industry’s 32,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity is located in eagle habitat. If one were to believe the low mortality estimate of 109 golden eagles killed per 3000 MW, this still works out to one eagle death per 27.5 MW of installed capacity. Projected out across the Western US at this rate, the estimated kill rate is 1164 golden eagles annually.

    I want everybody to think back about the highly publicized (AP) 2013 Journal of Raptor Research Study reporting or suggesting that 85 eagles were killed by wind turbines over the last 15 years in the United States. This so called study was nothing more than Interior Department propaganda. It was pure nonsense because the truth is that thousands and thousands of eagles have been killed by wind turbines in the US over the last 15 years.

    The Golden eagle is in a serious state of decline but studies that would show this have been deliberately avoided by the wind industry and Interior Department. At best that I believe there are less than 300 nesting pairs of golden eagles left in all of
    California and Oregon. This expands out to a population of no more than 1000-1200 golden eagles when including all juveniles and sub adults.

    Just two wind farms, Altamont Pass and the Montezuma Hills are killing at least 75 eagles per year. This far exceeds the 5% wind mortality threshold stated in the Eagle Conservation Plan.

    With the current FWS Eagle Take Policy, the FWS's objective is to manage the species by authorizing take (kill) at a level that is less that 5 percent of the local area population. Despite the low estimated eagle mortality derived from filtered wind industry studies, the mortality rate from these two wind farms in CA is not even close to 5% and is in the range of 25%-50% per year for the regional population. In fact with proper studies and analysis I believe that that the golden eagle mortality from both the Montezuma Hills and Altamont Pass Wind Resource areas would exceed 5% percent of the total golden eagle population for all of California and Oregon combined. This amount of mortality far exceeds any reasonable or ethical meaning for the term "regional population.

    To compensate for this killing the FWS has stated there are 526 golden eagles living within 150 miles of these two projects. This figure is far from being true. In fact I believe that the FWS would have a very hard time proving with actual occupied/productive nest site data, that there are even 100 nesting pairs of golden eagles now left in California. In other words, this proof would exclude all the bogus nest site data (empty or abandoned) and vague eagle territory terminologically that is currently being used to embellished golden eagle population estimates.

    It is very important for the public to understand this ongoing charade being put on by the wind industry and our government agencies. A number of massive wind projects are being proposed for golden eagle habitat located in Montana, Idaho, Utah, Colorado Nevada, and Wyoming and the truth about these deadly turbines will be very elusive. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be seeking public input on the issuing an eagle take permits for these projects. But the FWS service doesn't need any input because they know about the eagle slaughter taking place. They are not disclosing it, and asking for input when they already have the information is silent fraud.

  • Tammy C Truitt

    Wind Developers are at work in the Bald Eagle rich region of the Chesapeake Bay. Pioneer Green Energy, LLC is applying for 25 Bald Eagle take permits for a mere 25 turbines. It does not matter that the wind resource their is marginal.
    The only reason wind energy exists is because the government forces utilities to buy it and the government pays them for buying it. Hence the taxpayer and ratepayer foot the bill. And guess what, that is you and you!

  • Sewall House Yoga

    thank you for this article..Obama has responded to funders who are making $ off simple as that.,.cares nothing for the wildlife to sign that murder sentence for eagles..very disappointing and tragically sad. would love to know more about your documentary too..

  • ericmills

    Thanks for a good column, Mr. Funk. (And, as a Kentucky native myself, I hope you'll do another column about the egregious "sport" hunting of sandhill cranes in my native state–a true "crime against nature.")

    Here in California, my warden friends tell me that the bird mortality from the windmills is much higher than reported. Nor is it just golden eagles. Many falcons, hawks, even bats are victims. It ain't worth it, in my book.

    You mention the recent California ban on the use of lead for all hunting, the nation's first (AB 711, introduced by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon). Seems a "no brainer," right? Yet only ONE Republican voted in favor of this commonsense legislation on the Senate and Assembly votes. Shouldn't environmental protection be a bipartisan issue? It clearly is not. Should note, too, that there is much secondary lead poisoning of scavengers such as coyotes, foxes, vultures, ravens, jays, and others. We desperately need a nationwide ban on the use of lead for hunting. And fishing, too. Thousands of waterfowl annually die after ingesting lost lead fishing weights ("sinkers"): loons, swans, cormorants, diving ducks, et al. Time to get the lead out.

    Here's a website worth a look:

  • Jim Wiegand

    Any study can be rigged to discover or to conceal facts. I know the wind industry knows all about this because I have been reading their rigged studies for years. That is why over 90% their turbine slaughter to protected species is being concealed.

    Every court case against the wind industry can be rigged to disclose or to conceal evidence. Judges can dismiss cases, dismiss important facts, and even settlements can be rigged. Using these tactics the wind industry has been able to control public opinion. Today, thanks to the internet this is now changing and the industry lies are closing in on these profiteers.

    Rigged studies have hidden the plight of the Central Flyway Whooping crane
    population. Today there should have well over 400 individuals. But their
    numbers have plummeted since 2007 and their population numbers are being hidden with vague estimates and absurd count methodology that give population estimates that 175-350 now exist. There are also other problems with this recent estimate because it appears the FWS is now counting captive bred cranes released along the Louisiana coast as part of this dwindling population.

    Today at the official Whooping Crane web site http://www.fws.g/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147536438 , FWS biologists estimate there are more than 250 birds in the wild flock. Everyone should keep in mind that this is an "estimate" and estimates pertaining to this industry are usually rigged, Even so and the official numbers given are still nowhere near the numbers of 400-450.

    Rigged studies claim that turbines have no impact on the price of homes or
    property values and turbine blight does not exist. If this were true then these turbines should be installed near any gated communities, should not have 1 mile setbacks, and most certainly be constructed in pristine tourist areas.

    Our President loves Hawaii and spends his vacations on Oahu. Hawaii has put up a few turbines but It would take over 5000 2.5MW turbines to make a serious dent in the energy needs of the Island and Oahu would still need backup energy sources and tankers bringing in fuel. From the air this island would look like a huge porcupine. In the end, this industrialization would destroy tourism and send residents fleeing from the island.

    Another thought is that Oahu could smother all the other Hawaiian Islands with turbines to satisfy their Renewable Energy Mandates and preserve this Island for the President. After all this is the pattern seen on the US mainland where "Island" cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York are devouring the surrounding landscapes of this country with their energy projects.

    In fact if it were not for rigging, what the wind industry has done to this world is so corrupt and so devastating to the environment, that news of this would be on the front page of every newspaper for the next ten years. This really is the crime of the century.

  • Mike Barnard

    Wind farms are the best source of utility-scale energy for wildlife including birds: global warming and air pollution are the big threats. Studies tell us that wind farms in the USA kill about one in 86,000 birds annually. Cats and lit windows on the other hand kill up to one in ten.

  • Jim Wiegand

    This would be a book or study for the ages………….”The Collusion between the Wind Industry, Government Agencies, Politicians, and their influence in the
    production Fraudulent Studies." It would probably be a several thousands
    page read. The interviews with former employees and biased media representatives would be especially enlightening.

    With proper studies and ethical conduct the public would learn that wind turbines are killingmany thousands of eagles and other raptors each year in the US. While other highly publicized sources of mortality like cats, cars, buildings, cats, transmission lines andcommunication towers are killing relatively few of these species.

    Transmission lines and eagle mortality have been getting a lot of biased
    publicity lately in the media in order to deflect attention away from the wind industry's ongoing slaughter to our protected eagles. Yet facts like this are deliberately hidden…………………….. "Electrocutions are known to cause mortality of golden eagles and other raptors. Of 1,428 electrocution records
    reported by electric utility companies throughout the United States during an 11-year period, 19% were golden eagles (Harness and Wilson 2001). Hunt (2002) also found that 12% of 100 golden eagle deaths over 7 years resulted from electrocution."

    Let's do some of the numbers: 1428 x 19% = 271 / 11 years = 25 golden eagles
    electrocuted per year in the entire USA. This is far lower than the numbers
    of Golden Eagles being killed annually at a single wind resource area like Altamont Pass. It is also far lower than the number of eagles being killed by turbines further south in CA.

    In addition very few raptors, less than .00003% of the estimated annual avian
    mortality from communication towers, are being killed by communication towers. (2013 – Avian mortality at communication towers in the United States and Canada")

    These are just a few examples of the many facts being hidden from the public. I believe if the public were given the truth, most would see Wind Energy as I do and consider it in the same light as toxic waste.

    What is coming from these archaic monsters is the extinction of species. The industry is aware of this and they are selling this impact as collateral damage for the
    greater good. As people hear this, I want them to consider the source and keep in mind that this viewpoint is coming from an industry riddled with fraud, collusion, and the pursuit of as many dollars as they can fleece from the taxpayer.