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Teaching Climate Change: Lessons from the Past
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Carbon Footprint Collection

thermostat The calculation of one's carbon footprint can be used in a variety of educational settings. It can be used to practice quantitative skills, raise awareness, or kick off a unit on energy use or greenhouse gasses. The concept can be used with introductory level students via ready-made footprint calculators, or left as open-ended calculations in upper level courses. The approaches below draw from submissions across the SERC websites and have been contributed by faculty who teach undergraduate courses.

Jump down to: Projects | Carbon Calculator Tools


Activities

Carbon Footprint Exercise by Cinzia Cervato, Adam Sanford, and Karly Wortmann, Iowa State University
This is a three-step assignment for students in introductory geoscience that asks them to calculate their carbon footprint during one specific week. The goal of the assignment is to increase student awareness of the various sources of energy consumption and of the impact that each one of them is having on the atmospheric carbon budget.

Calculation of your Personal Carbon Footprint by Scott Giorgis, Department of Geological Sciences, SUNY Geneseo
This worksheet walks the students through the steps for calculating their personal carbon footprint. Additionally it helps them consider options for reducing their carbon footprint and the potential costs of those reductions.

Environmental Footprint by Christina Gallup, University of Minnesota Duluth
In this homework/in-class activity, students take a web-based quiz that calculates their personal, the nation's, another developed country's, and an undeveloped country's environmental footprint. They add their results to a page on the class website and quantitatively analyze their results in small groups.

From Grid to Home by Marie Johnson, Jonathan Hoffman and Lisa Gardiner
This is an idea for a one-period classroom activity designed to have students analyze energy use, cost, and source patterns from household to regional scales and relate these patterns to CO2

Ideas for Teaching about Energy: Calculating Students' Energy Use
This page presents various ideas for teaching footprint calculations such as quantifying the total amount of energy used in a home in one month, converting auto emissions to charcoal briquettes, or researching the source of household electricity emissions.

Comparing Carbon Calculators
By comparing different calculators, learners can analyze which ones are the most accurate and relevant, and which are the most transparent. This page contains a set of short guidelines that students can use while considering the use of various calculation tools.


Projects

The Lifestyle Project by Karin Kirk, SERC
This three-week project challenges students to learn about environmental alternatives by modifying their own lifestyles. Throughout the project, students reduce their impacts on the environment by changing the way in which they live from day to day.

Adaptations of the Lifestyle Project are used at other universities such as The Lifestyle Project at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and The Lifestyle Project at the University of Redlands Each of these contains Excel-based energy calculators. The Lifestyle Project at Malaspina University and at the University of North Dakota both use campus-specific quizzes that look at students' energy use as well as their knowledge of local environmental issues.

Campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory by Suzanne Savanick, Macalester College
This is a large-scale project that can be performed by an individual or a team of students. Students conduct a greenhouse gas emission inventory for their college or university, analyze findings and present information to the college or university community.

Carbon Footprint Calculators

Before jumping in to teach with a carbon footprint calculator, consider this paper which provides a comparison of some of the available tools. There is also a student guide for using this paper and for comparing different carbon calculation tools.

A comparison of carbon calculators by J. Paul Padgett, Anne C. Steinemann, James H. Clarke, and Michael P. Vandenbergh. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 28 (2008) 106–115.
International attention to carbon dioxide emissions is turning to an individual's contribution, or "carbon footprint." Calculators that estimate an individual's CO2 emissions have become more prevalent on the internet. Even with similar inputs, however, these calculators can generate varying results, often by as much as several metric tons per annum per individual activity. This paper examines the similarities and differences among ten US-based calculators. Overall, the calculators lack consistency, especially for estimates of CO2 emissions from household electricity consumption. In addition, most calculators lack information about their methods and estimates, which impedes comparison and validation. Although carbon calculators can promote public awareness of carbon emissions from individual behavior, this paper reveals the need for improved consistency and transparency in the calculators.
Ecological Footprint Calculators (more info) This website contains interactive calculators for determining various environmental impacts. The site includes more than 15 different calculators to determine greenhouse gas emissions, ecological footprints, electricity pollution, air travel pollution, commuting costs, appliance costs, pollution prevention and more.

Ecological Footprint Quiz (more info) This Ecological Footprint Quiz asks a series questions about food, housing, transportation and waste production. The results of the quiz provide an estimate of how much productive land and water are required to support your lifestyle, and how your footprint compares to the average resident in your country. The website also contains answers to common questions about the quiz, tips for reducing your footprint, and detailed information on the calculations and methodology. A useful Excel spreadsheet that contains each calculation in the quiz can be found in the FAQ section.

Carbon Footprint (more info) This website has interactive tools to calculate your carbon footprint, which is a way to measure how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are produced by your activities. This site also contains specific recommendations for reducing and off-setting your carbon footprint, as well as links to news and information about global warming.

EPA household emissions calculator You can use this online calculator to get a rough estimate of your greenhouse gas emissions and explore the impact of taking various actions to reduce your emissions.




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