Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where does your electricity come from?

The plug? Batteries?  Wires?  Power lines?  The light switch?  Yes and No.  These are all parts of our infrastructure for transporting and using energy in ways that are convenient to us.  But this is not how our electricity is generated.  Going around the classroom, we generated a pretty good list of energy sources. The thing that came to mind first for most students was usually solar panels, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams. Some thought of ethanol and geothermal energy as well. Not many thought of nuclear energy as an important source.  Most students had heard of and knew that various fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) were also used.  However, when we asked students to make pie charts of where our electricity came from, very few expected fossil fuels and nuclear energy to be as important of a source of electricity as they really are.  

Now, when we start thinking about what else we use fossil fuels for, it becomes a bit scary.  Most of the agriculture in the state of Iowa is dependent on fertilizers derived from fossil fuels.  Our transportation system, whether we are talking about trains, planes or automobiles is dependent on fossil fuels. And electric cars?  Where does that electricity come from? Fossil fuels again.  How do we transport our fruits and vegetables from California, Brazil, Florida, etc. to the grocery store? How do we keep our dairy products cool in the store and in our home?  How do we heat our homes?  And does our military use fossil fuels?  You can be certain that tanks, ships, planes, and humvees use their fair share of fossil fuels.  What about plastics?  You have never heard of a plastic mine before, but I am sure you have heard of an oil rig...  Thats right, plastic comes from fossil fuels too!

It is clear that our country and lifestyle is highly dependent on fossil fuels, which are not renewable, and are going to run out sometime in the not to distant future.  This week we will watch a part of President Obama's State of the Union Address, to see what he has to say about our energy problems and have a discussion about it, and start talking about the sorts of things scientists are doing to address these global problems.

1 comment:

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