Benefits vs Risks

Earth & Space Science
Human Interactions with Earth Systems

People consider potential benefits, costs and risks to make decisions on how they interact with natural systems.

Benchmark: Natural Hazards

Analyze the benefits, costs, risks and tradeoffs associated with natural hazards, including the selection of land use and engineering mitigation.

For example: Determining land use in floodplains and areas prone to landslides.

Benchmark: Human Alterations of Earth

Explain how human activity and natural processes are altering the hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere, including pollution, topography and climate.  

For example: Active volcanoes and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to the greenhouse effect.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:

We are living in an age where political entities and individuals are interested and concerned about the longevity of our sustainable natural environment. Many laws and regulations govern the procedures related to the extraction, manufacture, and by-products of the land, water, atmospheric, and biological resources of the Earth. Responsible citizens and governing body members must be aware of how their immediate interactions with the Earth system will affect it both immediately and in the future. The history of industrialization and resource acquisition, and associated human-induced disasters (e.g., Alaska and Gulf oil spills, community effects of mining, nuclear reactor meltdowns, by-products of industrial combustion, CFCs and the ozone hole, etc.), impact future policy and the risk analysis of future similar endeavors.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

Earth Science Literacy: The Big Ideas and Supporting Concepts of Earth Science.

Big idea 3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.

3.6 - Earth's systems are dynamic; they continually react to changing influences.

3.7 - Changes in part of one system can cause new changes to that system or to other systems, often in surprising and complex ways.

Big idea 7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.

7.7 - Earth scientists and engineers develop new technologies to extract resources while reducing the pollution, waste, and ecosystem degradation caused by extraction.

7.10 - Earth scientists help society move toward greater sustainability.

Big idea 9: Humans significantly alter the Earth.

9.1 - Human activities significantly change the rates of many of Earth's surface processes.

9.2 - Earth scientists use the geologic record to distinguish between natural and human influences on Earth's systems.

9.3 - Humans cause global climate change through fossil fuel combustion, land-use changes, agricultural practices, and industrial processes.

9.4 - Humans affect the quality, availability, and distribution of Earth's water through the modification of streams, lakes, and groundwater.

9.5 - Human activities alter the natural land surface.

9.6 - Human activities accelerate land erosion.

9.7 - Human activities significantly alter the biosphere.

9.8 - Earth scientists document and seek to understand the impacts of humans on global change over short and long time spans.

9.9 - An Earth-science-literate public, informed by current and accurate scientific understanding of Earth, is critical to the promotion of good stewardship, sound policy, and international cooperation.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks: Analyze the benefits, costs, risks and tradeoffs associated with natural hazards, including the selection of land use and engineering mitigation. Explain how human activity and natural processes are altering the hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere, including pollution, topography and climate.


A quote, cartoon or video clip link directly related to the standard.


Cartoon "Global Warming" by Nick D. Kim, strange-matter.net. Used by permission.

  • NSES Standards

NSES Content Standard D Earth and Space Science (grades 9-12)

Energy in the Earth System

Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth's surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth's rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.

The Origin and Evolution of the Earth System

Interactions among the solid earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system. We can observe some changes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a human time scale, but many processes such as mountain building and plate movements take place over hundreds of millions of years.

NSES Content Standard E Science and Technology (grades 9-12)

Understanding about Science and Technology

Scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations. Many scientific investigations require the contributions of individuals from different disciplines, including engineering. New disciplines of science, such as geophysics and biochemistry often emerge at the interface of two older disciplines.

NSES Content Standard F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (grades 9-12)

Natural Resources

The earth does not have infinite resources; increasing human consumption places severe stress on the natural processes that renew some resources, and it depletes those resources that cannot be renewed.

Humans use many natural systems as resources. Natural systems have the capacity to reuse waste, but that capacity is limited. Natural systems can change to an extent that exceeds the limits of organisms to adapt naturally or humans to adapt technologically.

Environmental Quality

Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Those processes include maintenance of the quality of the atmosphere, generation of soils, control of the hydrologic cycle, disposal of wastes, and recycling of nutrients. Humans are changing many of these basic processes, and the changes may be detrimental to humans.

Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth, resource use, population distribution, overconsumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and different ways humans view the earth.

Natural and Human-Induced Hazards

Human activities can enhance potential for hazards. Acquisition of resources, urban growth, and waste disposal can accelerate rates of natural change.

Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and trade-offs of various hazards - ranging from those with minor risk to a few people to major catastrophes with major risk to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.

Science and Technology in Local, National, and Global Challenges

Individuals and society must decide on proposals involving new research and the introduction of new technologies into society. Decisions involve assessment of alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits and consideration of who benefits and who suffers, who pays and who gains, and what the risks are and who bears them. Students should understand the appropriateness and value of basic questions - "What can happen?" - "What are the odds?" - and "How do scientists and engineers know what will happen?"

Humans have a major effect on other species. For example, the influence of humans on other organisms occurs through land use - which decreases space available to other species - and pollution - which changes the chemical composition of air, soil, and water.

Influences on social change.

Benchmarks of Science Literacy

Project 2061: Benchmarks for Science Literacy (2009).

Chapter 3A

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Technological problems and advances often create a demand for new scientific knowledge, and new technologies make it possible for scientists to extend their research in new ways or to undertake entirely new lines of research. The very availability of new technology itself often sparks scientific advances. 3A/H1*

One way science affects society is by stimulating and satisfying people's curiosity and enlarging or challenging their views of what the world is like. 3A/H3b*

Engineers use knowledge of science and technology, together with strategies of design, to solve practical problems. Scientific knowledge provides a means of estimating what the behavior of things will be even before they are made. Moreover, science often suggests new kinds of behavior that had not even been imagined before, and so leads to new technologies. 3A/H4** (SFAA)

Chapter 3B

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Risk analysis is used to minimize the likelihood of unwanted side effects of a new technology. The public perception of risk may depend, however, on psychological factors as well as scientific ones. 3B/H4

The more parts and connections a system has, the more ways it can go wrong. Complex systems usually have components to detect, back up, bypass, or compensate for minor failures. 3B/H5

To reduce the chance of system failure, performance testing is often conducted using small-scale models, computer simulations, analogous systems, or just the parts of the system thought to be least reliable. 3B/H6

Chapter 3C

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

In deciding on proposals to introduce new technologies or curtail existing ones, some key questions arise concerning possible alternatives, who benefits and who suffers, financial and social costs, possible risks, resources used (human, material, or energy), and waste disposal. 3C/H3*

The human species has a major impact on other species in many ways: reducing the amount of the earth's surface available to those other species, interfering with their food sources, changing the temperature and chemical composition of their habitats, introducing foreign species into their ecosystems, and altering organisms directly through selective breeding and genetic engineering. 3C/H4

Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence. 3C/H5

Chapter 4B

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are transparent to much of the incoming sunlight but not to the infrared light from the warmed surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases increase, more thermal energy is trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature of the earth increases the light energy radiated into space until it again equals the light energy absorbed from the sun. 4B/H4** (SFAA)

Climatic conditions result from latitude, altitude, and from the position of mountain ranges, oceans, and lakes. Dynamic processes such as cloud formation, ocean currents, and atmospheric circulation patterns influence climates as well. 4B/H5** (NSES)

The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming. 4B/H6** (SFAA)

Chapter 5D

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

If a disturbance such as flood, fire, or the addition or loss of species occurs, the affected ecosystem may return to a system similar to the original one, or it may take a new direction, leading to a very different type of ecosystem. Changes in climate can produce very large changes in ecosystems. 5D/H2*

Human beings are part of the earth's ecosystems. Human activities can, deliberately or inadvertently, alter the equilibrium in ecosystems. 5D/H3

Chapter 7G

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

The growing worldwide interdependence of social, economic, and ecological systems means that changes in one place in the world may have effects in any other place. 7G/H4*

Chapter 8B

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Waste management includes considerations of quantity, safety, degradability, and cost. It requires social and technological innovations, because waste-disposal problems are political and economic as well as technical. 8B/H2

The development of new materials and the increased use of existing materials by a growing human population have led to the removal of resources from the environment much more rapidly than they can be replaced by natural processes. Disposal of waste materials has also become a problem. Solving these problems requires systematic efforts involving both social and technological innovations. 8B/H7** (SFAA)

Chapter 8C

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Industrialization brings an increased demand for and use of energy. Such usage contributes to having many more goods and services in the industrially developing nations but also leads to more rapid depletion of the earth's energy resources and to environmental risks associated with some energy resources. 8C/H4*

Decisions to slow the depletion of energy resources can be made at many levels, from personal to national, and they always involve trade-offs involving economic costs and social values. 8C/H5*

Chapter 9B

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Any mathematical model, graphic or algebraic, is limited in how well it can represent how the world works. The usefulness of a mathematical model for predicting may be limited by uncertainties in measurements, by neglect of some important influences, or by requiring too much computation. 9B/H3

Chapter 9D

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

A physical or mathematical model can be used to estimate the probability of real-world events. 9D/H8

Chapter 9E

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Because computers can store, retrieve, and process large amounts of data, they can rapidly perform a long series of logic steps. They are therefore being used increasingly to help experts solve complex problems that would otherwise be very difficult or impossible to solve. Not all logic problems, however, can be solved by computers. 9E/H5*

Chapter 10J

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

The Industrial Revolution increased the productivity of each worker, but it also increased child labor and unhealthy working conditions, and it gradually destroyed the craft tradition. The economic imbalances of the Industrial Revolution led to a growing conflict between factory owners and workers and contributed to the main political ideologies of the 20th century. 10J/H2

Today, changes in technology continue to affect patterns of work and bring with them economic and social consequences. 10J/H3*

Chapter 11A

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

Understanding how things work and designing solutions to problems of almost any kind can be facilitated by systems analysis. In defining a system, it is important to specify its boundaries and subsystems, indicate its relation to other systems, and identify what its input and output are expected to be. 11A/H2

The successful operation of a designed system often involves feedback. Such feedback can be used to encourage what is going on in a system, discourage it, or reduce its discrepancy from some desired value. The stability of a system can be greater when it includes appropriate feedback mechanisms. 11A/H3*

Even in some very simple systems, it may not always be possible to predict accurately the result of changing some part or connection. 11A/H4

Systems may be so closely related that there is no way to draw boundaries that separate all parts of one from all parts of the other. 11A/H5** (SFAA)

Chapter 11C

By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that

If a system in equilibrium is disturbed, it may return to a very similar state of equilibrium, or it may undergo a radical change until the system achieves a new state of equilibrium with very different conditions, or it may fail to achieve any type of equilibrium. 11C/H1*

Things can change in detail but remain the same in general (the players change, but the team remains; cells are replaced, but the organism remains). Sometimes counterbalancing changes are necessary for a thing to retain its essential constancy in the presence of changing conditions. 11C/H3

Cyclic change is commonly found when there are feedback effects in a system-as, for example, when a change in any direction gives rise to forces or influences that oppose the change. 11C/H5*

The present arises from the conditions of the past and, in turn, affects what is possible in the future. 11C/H6*

Chapter 12A

By the end of the 12th grade, students should 

Exhibit traits such as curiosity, honesty, openness, and skepticism when making investigations, and value those traits in others. 12A/H1*

View science and technology thoughtfully, being neither categorically antagonistic nor uncritically positive. 12A/H2

Common Core Standards:

High school (grades 9, 10, 11) Mathematics: Data Analysis and Probability. Explain the uses of data and statistical thinking to draw inferences, make predictions and justify conclusions. Evaluate reports based on data published in the media by identifying the source of the data, the design of the study, and the way the data are analyzed and displayed. Show how graphs and data can be distorted to support different points of view. Know how to use spreadsheet tables and graphs or graphing technology to recognize and analyze distortions in data displays. Design simple experiments and explain the impact of sampling methods, bias and the phrasing of questions asked during data collection.

High school (grades 9-12) V. Geography. B. Essential Skills: The student will use maps, globes, geographic information systems, and other databases to answer geographic questions at a variety of scales from local to global.

2. Students will make inferences and draw conclusions about the character of places based on a comparison of maps, aerial photos, and other images.   

High school (grades 6-12) English Language Arts.

Standard 10: Range, quality, and complexity of student reading 6-12. Students in grades 6-12 apply the Reading standards to the following range of text types, with texts selected from a broad range of cultures and periods.

Other examples:

Integration of knowledge and ideas. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, spatially, aurally, physically as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Key ideas and details. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.

Craft and structure. Determine the meaning of symbols, equations, graphical representations, tabular representations, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.


Student Misconceptions 

McCaffrey, M., & Kutscher, C. (n.d.). Common misconceptions about climate and climate change. CIRES Education and Outreach.

  • The atmosphere is big and carbon dioxide makes up a small percentage of the total gases. We are not adding enough carbon dioxide to make a difference.
  • Pollution affects the carbon cycle. If the air, for example, is polluted, then this pollution will travel up into the atmosphere and it will travel all along the cycle adding pollutants to the environment.
  • Continued burning of fossil fuels is going to cause a catastrophe. All life on earth is going to die out, including humans.
  • California Department of Conservation. (2007). Earthquake mythology.
  • Earthquakes occur during "earthquake weather."
  • We have good building codes, so we must have good buildings.
  • The safest place to be in an earthquake is under a doorway.


  • Many students believe that lightning never strikes the same place twice. (applies to other hazards as well: tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.)

Bibliographic Citations


Alvin wonders how he is going to deal with standard While he is planning, he decides to move out of his comfort zone and make a concerted effort to incorporate technology into his unit about natural hazards and human impact on the environment. To assist him, he contacts his computer/technology specialist and a fellow earth science instructor.

[Three weeks later he is busy teaching the unit.] Alvin introduces the unit, and engages the students by displaying a projection (with the department's portable projector, which he borrowed) of the most recent earthquake map (USGS) on the screen in front of the class. He points out to the class that there was a nearby large magnitude quake, and asks students if anyone had heard about it (or felt it!)? Most students say "no." Alvin pulls up a recent news article about the quake, and after describing it briefly, asks students to pair up and discuss the potential damage associated with large earthquakes. Students deliberate and list off several risks: buildings crumbling, streets opening up and swallowing cars, people being hurt, bridges collapsing, etc. Alvin uses the "bridge collapsing" example by one of his typically least participative students to probe the class further, asking: what determines whether a bridge will collapse or withstand a strong quake? After a short class discussion about it, Alvin tasks students with exploring this issue by researching specific web pages (which he has identified as "reputable" sources) during the next class period in the school's computer lab.

Two days later, Alvin's 10th grade earth science students are busying themselves with a simulation associated with the DLESE Teaching box: Living in earthquake country - Lesson 6, Activity 3 activity he has assigned students. He ponders the possibility of orchestrating an in-class debate, to simulate a discussion between the local city council and a fictitious engineering firm hired to construct a bridge specifically designed to survive an earthquake. Alvin decides that what he had planned originally was a good idea, but the students are really engaged by the earthquake topic, so he decides it is worth it to modify his plan and set to work on designing a suitable debate scenario.


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions/options:

A number of resources (e.g., activities, animations, videos, and more) have been provided related to standard - People consider potential benefits, costs and risks to make decisions on how they interact with natural systems.  To start a lesson on this standard, engage students by introducing them to the latest earthquakes on the Earth, then have them explore the costs, risks, and engineering mitigation associated with earthquakes through research and/or discussion. Consider taking the class to a computer lab and working through the DLESE Teaching box: Living in earthquake country - Lesson 6, Activity 3. Next, consider reinforcing and transferring ideas to other natural hazards, using the natural hazards statistics link.

Selected activities:

The following activities relate to: Analyze the benefits, costs, risks and tradeoffs associated with natural hazards, including the selection of land use and engineering mitigation.

DLESE. (2005). Teaching boxes: Living in earthquake country - Lesson 6, Activity 3.

This activity is designed for grades 6-12, to learn about engineering for earthquakes.

Students are engaged by using a computer simulation to determine the best bridge design for withstanding an earthquake. The site also includes links to additional lessons on earthquakes. Includes materials list, procedural instructions, teaching tips, etc.


National Geographic. (2008). Expeditions: The impact of natural disasters around the world.

An activity designed for grades 6-8, but adaptable for high school students. The activity is designed to help students explain what natural hazards are, how to avoid them, and the costs associated with them. (

USGS. (2011). Natural hazards.

Informational resource for background information about natural hazards. The site could be used for teachers to research for purposes of explaining, or for students to use when researching for papers/projects. (

USGS. (2011). Climate and land use change.

Informational resource for background information about climate and land use change.

The site could be used for teachers to research for purposes of explaining, or for students to use when researching for papers/projects. (

USGS. (2010). Current natural hazard events.

Map of the globe depicting where, and what type, of natural hazards have occurred recently. The site would be useful for teachers to show current hazard events, and/or to provide students with a resource when studying natural hazards. Includes flood warnings, flood areas, earthquakes, wildfires, and more. (

USGS. (2011). Earthquake hazards program: Latest earthquakes.

Depicts location and information about the most recent earthquakes (including magnitude), and also displays daily earthquake fact. A valuable resource for teachers to display the most current earthquake data, which may also be launched in Google Earth.


NOAA. (2011). Natural hazard statistics.

Resource for teachers and students on recent types of natural hazard activity, including: lightning, tornado, heat, flood, winter storms, etc. A valuable site for students asked to complete research about natural hazards, and also useful for teachers when explaining facts about natural hazards. (

The following activities related to: Explain how human activity and natural processes are altering the hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere and atmosphere, including pollution, topography and climate.

Dahlman, L. (2003). Annotating change in satellite images.

An Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter utilizing freely available ImageJ software to examine how human activity has change the coastline of Asia over time. (

Koenig, T. (2011). Examining topography and stream discharge at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

A field-based activity providing students practice estimating and measuring stream flow, discharge, and considering affects of flooding. The activity is specifically tied to standards and

National Geographic. (2008). Places and processes: Physical processes in shaping places.

Lesson designed for 9-12 grade students; engages students in understanding the natural processes that alter the climate and topography of the land. Tied specifically to geography and language arts. Site includes "related links." (

National Geographic. (2008). Environmental issues in the polar regions.

Lesson designed for 9-12 grade students; leads students to a better understanding of how humans are altering the physical environment, particularly sensitive regions (like the poles). Lesson connects to the ozone hole, global warming, and pollution. Site includes "related links." (

Urban, M.J., Bojkov, B., Carter, B., Dogancay, D., & Fermann, E. (2008). Exploring air quality in Aura NO2 data.

Earth Exploration Toolbook activity designed to engage students in learning about the problem of photochemical smog as it relates to population density, utilizing Google Earth and imported datasets. The activity is designed for grades 7-12 and follows a step-by-step approach. Lesson is tied to a number of science and related standards. (

USGS. (1995). Programs in Minnesota.

This resource contains information specific to the state of Minnesota. Teachers may use it as a resource for explaining how human activity has affected specific resources (including water, wetlands, etc.) of Minnesota. (

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links:

National Geographic. (2008). Lesson plans: 9-12.

A number of activities from National Geographic tied to geography national standards. Many of the activities relate well to science. Teachers may use the site to get other activity ideas for their classrooms that integrate well with geography.

Teacher Vision. (2011). Natural disasters: Teacher resources. Pearson Education, Inc.

The site contains a wealth of activities related to natural disasters, including "extreme weather quizzes", safety resources,  and more. Some ideas for tying into reading are also listed (for lower grade levels; ideas may be adaptable).

New Vocabulary 


  • Natural hazards = natural events or activities that threaten life or property
  • Land use = how the land, or physical attributes of the environment, are used by humans; typically referring to settlement, including building cities, farming, etc.
  • Engineering mitigation = the specific use of technology to prevent or minimize the incidence of natural disasters, and/or their effects on land and human structures
  • Ozone hole = depletion of ozone from the stratospheric ozone layer surrounding the Earth, that filters UV light and shields life from effects of high energy sunlight that may cause mutations in DNA resulting in cancer (for example); the development and widespread use of the non-natural chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has been blamed for the ozone hole
  • Global warming = the increase in the average global temperature of the Earth, in part resulting from an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity
Technology Connections 

Google Earth. Google Earth is an online visualization software program allowing users to combine geographic information with satellite imagery. It enables layering of images for examining relationships between "stacked" datasets. It reads formatted KML files.

ImageJ. ImageJ is a Java image processing program in the public domain, and can be downloaded or run as an online applet. It enables layering of images for examining relationships between "stacked" images.

Cross Curricular Connections 

Investigating the probability of natural disasters striking in specific locations would be a useful way to connect to mathematics. For example, what is a 100-year flood, and how is the probability of it calculated, would be a connection to mathematics.

Consider having students write a technical report describing a natural disaster. Connects to technical writing in English/Language Arts.

The locations of natural hazard-prone areas, and the characteristics of these areas, would tie well into geography.

The ozone hole and photochemical smog, human-induced impacts on the environment, ties easily to chemistry (for exploring the causes) and biology (for considering the health affects to humans and the environment).



Trefil, J., & Hazen, R.M. (2010). The sciences: An integrated approach (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [Chapter 19, p. 421-422; Review Questions 16 & 18, and Discussion Questions 6, 12, & 17 respectively; answers from the associated "Instructor's Manual."]

1.       How did you affect your environment today? How did it affect you?

Answers will vary greatly. Everyone will have consumed resources: food, energy, and other materials.

Everyone will have added to pollution of the air and water directly (cars and buses) and indirectly (electrical generation). The environment affects us most directly by defining the choices available to us:

weather determines how we dress, available foods determine what we eat, etc. Students may also reflect on spiritual and emotional interactions with the environment.

2.       Where do electric cars obtain their energy? Is it true that they do not generate pollution because they have batteries?

Electrical cars obtain their energy from electricity, much of which is probably produced in a coal or oil burning power plant. Indirectly, they do cause pollution because they depend on fossil fueled power plants, which produce air pollution. Some prototypes have been developed to use solar generated electricity and new hybrid cars have batteries that recharge by capturing energy of braking.

3.       What is the most efficient greenhouse gas? What does cow flatulence have to do with global warming?

Methane is capable of trapping 25 times more heat than CO2, and is expected to cause approximately 16% of the global warming over the next 50 years. Evidence suggests that cow & pig flatulence and decaying manure are the largest contributors of methane. According to the EPA, livestock "produce about 80 million metric tons of methane annually."


Trefil, J., & Hazen, R.M. (2010). The sciences: An integrated approach (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [Chapter 19, p. 422; Discussion Questions 3, 10, & 13 respectively; answers from the associated "Instructor's Manual."]

1.       What environmental changes might result from a global warming of 2ºC? What countries might be most affected? Will increased agricultural production, via longer growing seasons, offset rising oceans?

Polar ice caps might begin to melt which would raise sea levels and cause flooding of shoreline areas of countries bordering on oceans and of islands as well. Changes in agricultural practices could help slow global warming. As crops become more productive, more sunlight is reflected. A recent trend toward less frequent plowing of fields also has raised the reflectivity, or albedo, of the surface. Each of these factors can cool local temperature. Irrigation cools the surface through a different effect - by increasing the amount of energy used to evaporate water rather than heat the land.

2.       Suppose that the United States decided today to undergo a conversion from fossil fuels to solar energy. How long do you think it would take to make a complete transition? What are some of the changes that would have to be made? Who would benefit, and who would be hurt by such a change?

It would take 30-50 years for a new source of energy to work its way into the economy if the same time spans are involved as in the transitions from wood to coal and coal to gas and oil. Factors that would make this transition possible are increasing costs of decreasing supplies of fossil fuels and the development of a solar energy technology that is competitively priced compared to fossil fuel energy.

3.       Suppose that scientists concluded that an appreciable fraction of any measured global warming was due to warming of the Sun or an increase in the amount of geothermal energy reaching the surface of Earth. What would be the policy implications of such a finding?

We would have no control over a change in the Sun's temperature. At least two responses are possible. Global warming is "natural," and beyond our control; we need to develop policies to cope with the inevitable changes. Alternatively, we might choose to attempt to actively counteract the Sun's change. [We would have no control over the amount of geothermal energy reaching Earth's surface either.]


An administrator stepping into a class session about standard might see: a teacher using a portable projector (or SmartBoard) to show the USGS recent earthquake map to engage students in discussion about costs and risks related to natural systems; students exploring an engineering mitigation activity of bridges in the school computer lab; students partaking in a mock debate involving a fictitious city council and an engineering firm tasked with constructing an earthquake resistant bridge.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

Relate to at-risk students by engaging them in the everyday, practical aspects of safety related to local natural hazards. Consider having all students create a family emergency plan in the event that a disaster strikes.

McGraw-Hill Education. (n.d.). Improving reading skills in science.

McGraw-Hill Education. (n.d.) Finding science in the real world.

McGraw-Hill Education. (n.d.) High stakes science tests: Will your students be ready?

English Language Learners 

Many students may have first-hand experience with natural hazards or disasters, and so asking students to relay these experiences would tap "funds of knowledge" in ELL learners as well as all students in the class. Ask ELL students to share experiences in class, especially if they typically do not participate in class discussions.

For details, see:

According to Lee & Buxton (2010), a couple of approaches are useful for assisting English Language Learners (ELLs): teach content while fostering language development and draw on the so-called "funds of knowledge", which are students' personal experiences from home or community. For additional details on this see the original NSTA News posting and the official NSTA position statement.
Lee, O., & Buxton, C.A. (2010, April). NSTA Report: Teaching science to English language learners.

NSTA. (2004). Students with disabilities. Official NSTA Position Statement.

McGraw-Hill Education. (n.d.) English language learners in science.

Extending the Learning 


Many of the human activities affecting our environment are complex, and so provide challenging problems and equally challenging solutions. Teachers may provide extension assignments or open-ended research projects to the class so that gifted/talented students may be encouraged to explore complex feedbacks related to climate change that have not yet been solved.

Differentiating science instruction. McGraw-Hill Education.


Natural hazards and disasters affect every location on the globe, so it is easy to connect to multi-cultures by exploring disasters outside of North America; this would provide an ideal time to explore some of the cultural aspects that may affect hazards and disasters, or how other cultures are affected by disasters. Instances of historical disasters may also be of interest, for example, eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius in Italy, or the eruption in Pompeii.

For details see:

NSTA. (2000). Multicultural science education. Official NSTA Position Statement.

Special Education 

Field trips may be activities associated with units addressing standard, and so accommodating students with physical disabilities may be important. For example, students may take a field trip to a local water treatment facility or local wetland, and ensuring that students with physical disabilities have access is critical; a wheel chair may be provided to a student who has difficulty walking.

For details, see:

NSTA. (2004). Students with disabilities. Official NSTA Position Statement.



National Science Resources Center. (2011). Parent resources. Smithsonian Institution.

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