Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), the average person in the U.S. releases approximately 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year by his or her actions. This illustrates the overwhelming truth of how much effect we, as humans, have on our environment. It also goes to show how much of our daily life depends on releasing carbon dioxide, whether it be by burning gas from fossil fuels in our vehicles, buying products that have to be shipped from across the world, or using electricity produced by fossil fuels in our homes, schools, and businesses.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that they have a very high confidence that the net average of human activities since 1750 has resulted in warming. Most scientists agree that this global warming is being caused primarily by the combustion of these fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide. For more on the idea that humans are the cause, check out this list of scientific studies documenting the connection. This trend can seem like a daunting shadow creeping over our lives, especially as Americans who represent only 5% of the world’s population but, according to the Energy Information Administration, emit 25% of all the greenhouse gases. If you’re interested in how we compare to other countries, check out the BBC’s graph of the top carbon dioxide emitters.

Our energy use here in the U.S. is one of our biggest causes of emissions because 70% of our power in the U.S. comes from burning fossil fuels according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. But, just take a deep breath and relax. You, as a teacher, an administrator, a student, or a school staff member, are in a unique position to make a huge positive impact on not only your school’s personal energy use, but on how your students understand the complex ways that humans affect the world we live in. Any change you can make in a school can have a lasting effect on our culture, whether it’s by spreading the education of how to conserve energy or challenging your school to install photovoltaic solar panels or a wind turbine to make your energy use clean and renewable. America’s schools are like fertile fields where the seeds you plant can grow to inspire and motivate hundreds of people beyond the scope of your individual life. Every member of a school community not only takes what they learn home with them, but they take it with them wherever they go in life.

Eventually, we will have to come to terms with a new society, a society no longer powered predominately by oil whether production slows because of the peak oil theory or because political forces want to curve global warming. What will this mean for our consumption level of not only energy and fuel, but every product and service that currently depends on oil? Where will we get the basic energy we need and basic petroleum products we produce that run our economy? Life after oil is a world we almost can’t imagine. A number of organizations, such as The Community Solution™ and the Post Carbon Institute are grappling with possible ways our society might be able to change and adapt.

However, one of the most hopeful ways our society can cope with life beyond oil is by challenging our kids to think about and understand these massive changes. The positive impact you have on your school’s energy use now will allow students to grow up in an environment where clean energy and conservation is a way of life, something they don’t have to just imagine, but can see, touch, and learn about every day. They will be better prepared for our future because they can take the small positive change you make now as a stool to stand on. When they become adults, they can extend their own minds and creativity to contribute to the new challenges of our world.

For more about how to prepare K-12 students to create and meet the challenges of a sustainable future, check out the Cloud Institute’s page on educating for sustainability. The Cloud Institute also offers guidance, materials, and potential partnerships to help you.