Oil is found in small pockets under the crust of the earth. This oil can
be extracted from the earth using drilling rigs. Drilling on land has happened
for thousands of years. At first this process was very dangerous. One spark
would ignite the entire drilling rig causing the oil and machinery to set on fire.
After much practice, and many disasters, oil drilling on land is thought to be
pretty safe. However, there is a limit to the amount of land that can be drilled.
As oil reserves on land began to run dry, people began looking toward
the water. As early as the 1890’s oil has been drilled for in lakes. Within the last
few decades oil rigs have been designed to drill for oil off the shore in the
ocean. The drilling rigs are typically owned by individual companies who
specialize in drilling. These drillers are then hired by a major petroleum dealer
(such as BP, Shell…). There is also a third party who supplies parts for the
The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been blamed on many
people. Whether it’s the drilling company, the petroleum dealer, or the parts
dealer the fact remains that thousands of barrels of oil spilled into the gulf
causing massive devastation to ecosystems and the local fishing economy. The
question is, who is responsible for oil spills and what should be done about it?
1. Should we be drilling for oil in the water? Why or why not?
2. Who should be held accountable for an oil spill?
3. Should the government be involved in regulating the safety of these
4. Who should pay to clean up massive oil spills?
5. How do you think an oil spill would affect the gulf ecosystem?
You all know that there are countries in the world that are far more
technologically advanced than others. There are countries in the world that
don’t use cars, or have cities that are full of production plants and warehouses.
But have you ever thought about what could happen to the countries? What if
those countries began to develop? What if they made roadways and city
centers? What if everyone in those countries owned a car? What would
happen to our air?
As of now, China and the United States lead the world in carbon
emissions. Carbon emissions come from combustion. Combustion happens in
cars, trains, paper production, and many other industrial processes. Between
China and the U.S. we account for 42 % of the carbon emissions in the whole
world. If other countries start developing and begin polluting as much as us,
what will our air look like?
The idea of sustainable development is a solution to this problem.
Sustainable development is the idea that third world nations can become
developed but use the best technology possible. Instead of building coal
burning factories they can build wind powered factories. This will allow them
to skip the mistakes that we have made and allow them to develop in a cleaner
“greener” way. Sustainable development also means that industrialized nations
like China and the U.S. should adopt better methods of energy production and
lower our carbon emissions so that other countries can actually develop and
not load the air with carbon.
1. What are 3 things the U.S. can do to lower our carbon emissions?
2. Do you think third world nations have the right to become
3. If you were to build a city from scratch, what “green” technology would
you include? (current technology)
4. In your city, how could you ensure that people drive less than they
would in a normal city?
As we have learned, many species have specific adaptations that allow
them to survive and mate in very specific habitats. These habitats typically are
homes to a wide variety of animal and plant species. As these habitats are
destroyed, many of the species within them die.
One habitat that is quickly disappearing is the Amazon Rainforest. The
rainforest is home to an incredible amount of plant and animal species. As it
turns out, the amount of wood in the rainforest can be sold for quite a bit of
money. When rainforests are cut down, the land is then used for cattle ranches
and farm land. Most of this farmland is not owned by local South Americans
but by major international corporations. When a rainforest is cut down it
cannot be regrown nor can the biodiversity ever be returned.
Some startling facts: 1 ½ acres of rainforest is cut down every second.
The Amazon Rainforest provides 20 % of the earth’s oxygen supply. Only 1%
of the plant species in the Amazon rainforest have been tested for medicinal
qualities. There were an estimated ten million Indians living in the Amazonian
Rainforest five centuries ago. Today there are less than 200,000.
Paper is a necessity in our world today. Even though we are attempting
to move everything to a digital format, it will still take a long time to become a
paper free society. Even then, we still make many things out of lumber
(furniture, houses…) which means we will never be free from our need of
wood. Some solutions are arising. Many companies use tree farms. On a tree
farm trees are planted just like crops and harvested when they are matured.
Once cut down, they are replanted allowing the cycle to continue. Next time
you buy lumber, check out the source of the wood!
1. What are some ways that we can conserve paper?
2. What are the benefits of tree farms?
3. What could you see as a downfall of tree farms?
4. What is the benefit of preserving rainforests?
If you have ever visited a major city like Los Angeles, you know that
smog is a continual problem. In South Dakota we take fresh air for granted.
The fact is that most people consistently deal with poor air quality. In some
cities people are actually told not to go outdoors on some days because of the
smog level. Air pollution is a problem that can be solved by people like you.
Our air is made up of mostly nitrogen and oxygen gas. Under 1% of the
air is made of carbon dioxide. With the invention of the combustion engine,
the levels of carbon dioxide in the air are on the rise. Combustion is a process
that breaks down fossil fuels. It creates a lot of energy, but releases carbon
dioxide gas as a result. At the onset of the industrial revolution this did not
seem like such a bad thing. However, we now realize that an increase in the
levels of carbon dioxide in the air could have harmful effects.
One negative effect of excess carbon dioxide is the magnification of the
greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide is a gas that helps trap heat in our
atmosphere. As our levels of carbon dioxide rise, the atmosphere traps more
heat causing large shifts in our climate and weather patterns. Another negative
effect is the release of particles into the atmosphere. When gases and particles
are hit by sunlight it creates a haze that is hard to see through and is hard to
breathe in. This haze is called smog.
Air pollution is a man made problem. The use of combustion engines in
cars and in industrial plants adds a lot of excess carbon into the air. By cutting
down our release of carbon dioxide we can clean up the air, making it much
more pleasant to be outside.
1. What are some things you can do to cut down on how much
2. What is the greenhouse effect?
3. What causes smog?
4. What kind of technology is there to help us cut down on
If you look at planet Earth from outer space you see that the majority of
it is water. So why is everyone so concerned about running out of water? The
truth is that most of this water is undrinkable. For one reason, most of it is salt
water, which requires an extensive process of desalination to make it drinkable.
Secondly, a lot of our freshwater is polluted by industry, farming, and
individual household use.
Some interesting water facts:
40% of America's rivers are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or
46% of America’s lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or
1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage and industrial waste are
discharged into US waters annually.
This Mississippi River is so polluted that there is an area the size of
Massachusetts in the Gulf of Mexico where nothing can live called the
Many of our everyday practices contribute to water pollution. Many
places use salt on roads during the winter, which ends up in waterways. We
also use pesticides and fertilizers on crops, which run off into rivers in streams.
In our own households we use fertilizers on our grass which ends up in the
closest stream after a rainy day. In Sioux Falls, untreated sewage has been
dumped into the Big Sioux River in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure
caused by flooding. All this waste ultimately ends up in the Mississippi River
and eventually in the Gulf of Mexico. If we all took time to realize the effects
of our practices on other regions of the country, we might be more careful.
1. What is something you can do to save water?
2. How can you make sure that water near you doesn’t become
3. Why is freshwater so precious to mankind?
4. What effect do we have on the Gulf Coast region?
As we have discussed, many species are specifically adapted to a
particular habitat. As habitats are destroyed, these species either die or are
forced to adapt and move. Many times these habitats are not destroyed for
farmland or ranching land but for houses and urban development.
Suburban sprawl is a term that describes the movement of people away
from a city center out into the countryside. As people move away from the city
homes and yards get bigger. Brandon is a perfect example of suburban sprawl.
It is considered to be a suburb to Sioux Falls because it is unclear where the
line of Sioux Falls ends and Brandon begins. Brandon is known for its nice
homes and big backyards. But what is at stake? By converting farmland to
neighborhoods we could be threatening certain species.
Species are considered to be endangered when it is in risk of becoming
extinct. There are certain protections that surround these plants and animals
that help them to build their numbers back up to normal levels. As we have
discussed, biodiversity is important to all life on earth. The extinction of one
species may have serious consequences on food webs and ecosystems. Most of
the species that are on the endangered species list have been affected by
humans in some way and it seems like humans are the only way to save many
An example of an endangered species is the Siberian Tiger. This tiger
used to live in Russia and Western Asia. However, during the Russian civil war
these tigers were hunted to near extinction. Tiger hunting continued until
1947. Under protection, the tiger population bounced back. After the fall of
the Soviet Union poaching became a way to make money and the tiger
population was wiped out again. In 1992 the tiger was protected once again
and is trying to make a comeback.
1. How does suburban sprawl affect native species?
2. When is an animal or plant considered endangered?
3. Why is it important to protect species and not let them die out?
4. What role do humans play in the lives of species like the Siberian Tiger?