Purpose: Students will learn how greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and study the methods being implemented to mitigate those changes. Students will research a technology or strategy aimed at slowing climate change before making a presentation. During the presentations, students will take notes and analyze the information presented before determining which methods should be prioritized to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Procedural overview: Students will read the article “It’s possible to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Here’s how” and complete comprehension and discussion activities about technologies and strategies that can mitigate carbon emissions. Each student then will research a technology or strategy that either reduces carbon dioxide emissions or removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and prepare a presentation for the class. In their presentations, students will identify the benefits, disadvantages and obstacles to implementing the mitigation approach they researched. Based on the class presentations, students will each identify the method they think should be prioritized in the global push toward net-zero carbon emissions, and they will write a justification for their choice.
Approximate class time: 3 class periods
Directions for teachers:
To prepare for this activity, have students read “It’s possible to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Here’s how” from Science News online. A version of this article titled “The Road to Net-Zero” was printed in Science News on January 28, 2023.
Students should read the article in class and complete the comprehension and discussion units from the Science News Learning Educator Guide: The Road to Net-Zero. If students are unable to finish their work during class, it can be completed as homework. The work will prepare the students to do their research projects.
The research project
At the start of the second class, have students identify different technologies or strategies used to reduce carbon dioxide production or remove carbon from the atmosphere. Examples of methods include wind power, solar power, hydropower, nuclear energy, hydrogen-based furnaces, electric heat pumps, electric vehicles and biofuels. After students choose the methods they will research, ask them to list their methods on a whiteboard to prevent duplications. Depending on class size, you could have students work individually or in groups.
Have the students use their worksheet to organize their research and remind them to keep track of their sources for inclusion in the presentation.
Ask students to answer the following questions when they do their research.
1. Explain how the method you chose to research works.
Student answers will vary. Wind energy production works by using wind’s kinetic energy to rotate blades that are attached to a turbine. This process converts the wind’s kinetic energy into electrical energy.
2. What are the advantages of using this method?
Student answers will vary. Wind is not a depletable resource and produces no carbon dioxide. We will never run out of wind.
3. What are the disadvantages of using this method?
Student answers will vary. Wind farms need to be placed in areas with constant or near-constant wind, usually open areas. Because of this, they can only be used in certain locations. Wind farms also could injure bats and migrating birds, and wind farms are considered a source of noise pollution, which can disturb animal and human communication.
4. How effective is this method in reducing carbon dioxide emissions or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?
Student answers will vary. This technology produces no carbon dioxide emissions and is significantly better for the environment compared with energy production methods that use fossil fuels. However, it could be argued that the construction of wind farms does require the use of fossil fuels, which does generate carbon dioxide.
5. How long does it take to apply this technology or implement this strategy?
Student answers will vary. Depending on the size and location of the wind farm, onshore wind farms can take approximately a year to construct, and offshore wind farms can take around five to 10 years. However, these timeframes are only for construction. Additional time for surveys and permits will vary based on local laws and community feedback.
6. How expensive is it to use this method?
Student answers will vary. It is expensive to set up a wind farm. The costs depend on the number of turbines to be constructed and whether the wind farm is onshore or offshore. While expensive, wind farms are not considered costly to maintain and will generate electricity for a lower cost than traditional fossil-fuel-based methods of energy production.
7. Can this method be added to current infrastructure, or will entirely new infrastructure need to be built for implementation?
Student answers will vary. Wind power produces electricity that can be used with the existing electrical grid. While the electrical grid may need to be extended to reach the wind farm, it can connect with the rest of the electrical grid with no further modifications.
After students research their topics, they can use class time to start their presentations and finish them at home. Worksheet information, visuals and a slide listing their sources should be included in the presentation. Specify any additional requirements you have regarding number of sources and formatting. Remind the students to aim for a presentation of approximately three minutes.
Give each student a presentation chart before the talks start. The students will use this chart to write notes about their classmates’ presentations. Depending how many individuals or groups present, your students might need multiple copies of the chart. At the end of the presentations, students should use the chart to identify the method they think should be prioritized on the path to net-zero emissions.
After identifying a method that should be prioritized above the others, each student will write a paragraph justifying their choice. This one-paragraph justification could focus on carbon emissions, cost of production/implementation, compatibility with current infrastructure or any other factor the student considers reasonable.
This justification can be written during class or as homework. You can use the justification as an assessment to test student understanding of modern technologies and strategies used to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.
1. Which technology or strategy should be prioritized in achieving net-zero carbon emissions? Why? Justify your answer with at least 150 words.