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How Cheeseburgers Impact the Oceans

Jennifer Provencher, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

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You may be able to find previous versions at the Internet Archive.

In this activity, students examine the energy required to make a cheeseburger, calculate its associated carbon footprint, and discuss the carbon emissions related to burger production. The activity is geared toward Canadian students but can be customized to the consumption patterns and carbon footprint of American students since the resource references the amount of burgers consumed by Americans in addition to Canadians.

Activity takes one class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Human activities have increased GHG levels and altered global climate patterns
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6c

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
Many different units are used to quantify energy.
Other materials addressing:
1.7 Units of energy.
Products and services carry with them embedded energy.
Other materials addressing:
6.7 Embedded energy.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
Other materials addressing:
6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
Humans live within Earth's ecosystems.
Other materials addressing:
3.6 Humans live within Earth's ecosystems..

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
Other materials addressing:
E) Environmental Issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Instructors may want students to follow up this activity by finding their own carbon footprint.
  • Grouping students that are math-savvy and students that struggle with math would be a good way to avoid discouraging weaker students.
  • There are two broken links in the resource section: the link to the methane emission graph (third bullet); and the link to the "good site" for looking at other forms of energy and how to convert units (4th from last bullet).
  • There are advertisements on the conversion website under resources.

About the Science

  • This resource carves the carbon produced from beef consumption out of carbon footprint calculation exercises and thus is more detailed and focused in its inputs and calculations.
  • Calculations are based on a report from 2000. The educator can update these numbers to reflect present-day values.
  • Comments from expert scientist: It's a good idea to connect students to their environmental effects through consumption of cheeseburgers. The activity has good science, but very poor pedagogy. It could cause confusion about the sources and effects of methane and carbon dioxide. Students do a lot of manipulations with numbers, but have no framework for interpreting the significance of those numbers.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students read articles and view graphs and charts to calculate the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger. The lesson is accompanied by a good 7-minute video clip on methane emissions from the Canadian government: http://www.science.gc.ca/default.asp?Lang=En&n=7F9A808A-1
  • The activity makes a connection with students' everyday lives. This is engaging and a good "hook" for a module on personal energy use and mitigation strategies.
  • Students who are math-challenged might need some guidance.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The directions are clear and detailed.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

EPA's methane website contains links to methane source data: http://www.epa.gov/methane/. This document contains the lbs CO2/kwh for electricity generated in various areas of the United States: ftp://ftp.eia.doe.gov/environment/co2emiss00.pdf.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ESS3.D1: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 understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.3:Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.

MS-C3.1:Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C6.1:Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts; therefore, complex natural and designed structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function.

MS-C7.2: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.4:Ask questions to clarify and/or refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P6.4:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events.

MS-P7.3:Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.

MS-P8.1:Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).

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