Title: Social Justice and Fossil Fuel Use

Contributed by: Shondricka Burrell (with special thanks to Jared Beeton of Adams College and Glenn Richard of Stony Brook Univ.)

Topic: Energy Resources, Social Justice, Geosciences

Course Type: Introductory


Question: Where do fossil fuels come from? Assess our current patterns of use and compare to alternative energy sources? (Students will consult academic resources and interview professionals to obtain information.)

Part I. Investigation

Jigsaw Method (5groups): These initial groups will generate "subject matter experts". These subject matter experts will then contribute their "expertise" to research teams that will engage in debate as part of Part II.

Geology group: What is the origin of fossil fuels? How do they form?

Social group: Assess the patterns of use of fossil fuels eg. transportation, electricity etc. Assess our dependence.

Impact group: Assess environmental impact of fossil fuel use

Technology group: identify the technology used in fuel extraction and use. Give pros and cons of each method

Social Justice: Examine the spatial patterns of the fossil fuel extraction and pollution. Is there any relationship with these patterns and social class/poverty groups? What economic and social patterns do you see?

(*Note to instructors: These groups can be combined based on number of students that present in the course.)

Part II. Debate

What is the "impact" on continued fossil fuel use/dependence versus development of alternative energy sources?

Part III.

Report the overall findings and final position in a team paper. This 5 page report will include research data and include an address of social justice.


What are the learning goals or outcomes of the activity? What will students be able to do upon successful completion of the activity?

Students should be able to do the following: understand the geological origins of fossil fuels; the social and environmental impacts of fossil fuel use; compare and contrast fossil fuel use and the development of alternative energy sources


Debate: Continued fossil fuel use versus investment and development of alternative sources of energy--what are the broader impacts of each choice.

(* It is an option to invite members of the university, professionals within the research community, policy makers, activists, local residents, etc to the debate. This can lead to a reach dialogue amongst the various groups. This can also lead to a valuable exchange of perspectives.)

Final report: Detail and summarize overall findings of your research team and the team's final position. The report will include and address social justice.


References, websites or other resources that would be useful for this activity.




Books: Crude World by Peter Moss

Oil! by Upton Sinclair

The Battle of Blair Mountainby Robert Shogan

Article: http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/edu/dees/V1003/readings/Lackner.IGR.2002.pdf