Kyoto Protocol and Energy Issues

Problems/Case Studies

"Watch Your Step: Understanding the Impact of Your Personal Consumption on the Environment", Philip Camill, Carleton College. State University of New York at Buffalo’s National Center for Case Study Teaching
This case makes use of the concept of the "ecological footprint," developed by Wackernagel and colleagues to quantify the amount of land area required to sustain the lifestyle of a population of any size. Students calculate their consumption of energy and materials to determine their personal ecological footprint and in the process learn about concepts of sustainability, ecological efficiency, and energy flow up food chains as well as the moral and ethical dimensions of how our lifestyles impact the Earth. The case includes an Excel spreadsheet for students to track their personal consumption of resources. Developed for an introductory biology course, the case could also be used in upper level courses such as ecology, conservation biology, evolution, diversity, and the biology of social issues, or in a non-majors biology course.

CNN Video Clips

"Kyoto Protocol (George W. Bush)": Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed (2:18)
President George W. Bush—in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet emission reduction standards set by the Kyoto Protocol—created a new policy that will offer tax incentives to businesses and industries in exchange for reducing nearly 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2012.  According to White House officials, meeting the reduction standards for CO2 emissions, originally proposed by the Kyoto treaty, would cost the U.S. 400 billion dollars and would leave 5 million Americans jobless.  White House officials believe that the new policy is an excellent step in the attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and mercury.  However, Democratic Party officials believe it is a step in the wrong direction, stating that the Bush administration's plan is only slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing the gas emissions altogether.  The worksheet includes the URL for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change web site.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Kyoto Protocol (1997 U.N.)": Environmental Science 7th Ed. CNN Ed (2:14)
In 1997, the United Nations established the Kyoto protocol in an attempt to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2012. The primary reductions include emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and methane. Initially, many nations were in favor of the Kyoto protocol, but in 2001, the Bush administration terminated U.S. participation and cited many concerns that participation could weaken the U.S. economy. Instead, the Bush Administration proposed that the U.S. and other countries focus on conducting more research on global warming and improving technology to reduce emissions. In the same respect, Russian officials are concerned that their participation could slow Russian economic growth, while other emerging countries grow without limits on their greenhouse gas emissions.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Global Environment Outlook": Environmental Science 6th Ed. CNN Ed (2:37 min)
According to the United Nations Environment Program Global Environment Outlook 3 (GEO-3), the world is at a crossroad between a future of health and prosperity, or widespread environmental disaster.  Over 1,000 researchers and scientists contributed to the report, which reviews climate changes over the past 30 years and makes predictions for environmental changes during the next 30 years.  Over the next three decades, scientists predict that the world may begin to experience the effects of greenhouse gas pollution, as the global climate changes and as Earth experiences increases in hurricanes, floods, and droughts.  Furthermore, the quality of human life may significantly lower as nearly 25% of the world’s mammals face the possibility of extinction; countries face severe poverty, diseases, and shortages in clean drinking water; and 70% of Earth’s land surface is consumed by cities, industries, mining, and agriculture.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Solar Energy": Environmental Science 7th Ed. CNN Ed (2:38)
Over the past few decades, improved technology and government tax incentives have contributed to the growing use of a renewable energy source known as solar energy. Solar power currently accounts for nearly 1% of the total energy used throughout the world. Compared to traditional fossil fuel energy sources, solar energy has higher costs, but has no pollution output and can be easily integrated into residential housing. The typical home application of solar energy requires a cost of at least $25,000, which is nearly 2 ½ times the price of traditional electricity. The worksheet includes the URL for the U.S. Department of Energy website.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"California Energy Crisis": Environmental Science 6th Ed. CNN Ed (2:01 min)
In a world where we are at the dawn of a new millennium, the one constant obstacle to technological progress is a limited supply of energy to power our industries.  The power generation industry is a business currently undergoing a dramatic amount of change, primarily because of two reasons: deregulation and growing demand for electricity.  Due to unexpected demand by consumers and the decrease in output capacity, brown outs and black outs have become more frequent during times of peak demand.  After the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, many news and industry analysts believe that there may not be enough power generation capacity to meet future demands.  As our world continues to grow, we need to learn new methods of fueling our limitless power needs without destroying our environment.  The worksheet includes the URL for the California Energy Commission website.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Algal Fuel": Biology 6th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:00)
University of California, Berkeley professor Tasios Melis has discovered an way to use “pond scum” to generate hydrogen gas. He found that when algae are deprived of sulfur, they turn to a metabolic pathway the produces hydrogen gas. Melis explains that hydrogen gas is a more efficient and cleaner burning fuel than any alternatives. His goal is to maximize the efficiency of the algal fuel production process. (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Nuclear Fallout": Environmental Science 7th Ed. CNN Ed (2:01)
One of the side effects of the detonation of a nuclear bomb on or near Earth’s surface is radiation exposure. During the 1950s, the U.S. government conducted many nuclear tests as part of research, but at the time, federal officials were unaware of the dangers of radioactive fallout. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nuclear explosions may have inadvertently caused at least 15,000 deaths due to radiation exposure. Furthermore, radiation from nuclear tests has spread to areas throughout the U.S., from California, Washington, and Oregon to Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. The worksheet includes the URL for the Office of Nuclear Energy.  (Student worksheet provided on CD)

"Renewable energy":  Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:10)
President Jimmy Carter, in an address to the nation, proposed that by the end of the century, 20% of the electricity used in the U.S. should be derived from the sun.  At the time he made the statement, it seemed like an environmentally friendly vision that could be accomplished; however, as we enter the year 2002, solar and wind generated power only supply about 2% of the nation’s demand for electricity.  In the past, the barrier that separated wind and solar energy from fossil fuel energy was cost efficiency.  Recently, many advances in technology may have broken that cost barrier, and it may no longer be an obstacle for industry and consumers to have cheaper access to renewable energy.  Some officials comment that the prices of renewable energy are about 1/8 of what they were 12 years ago, and they expect solar and wind powered energy to be the fastest growing energy source for individual buildings and houses over the next few decades.  In fact, in some areas, wind farms are growing in demand because they are cheaper to add than non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources.  Some energy analysts are optimistic that by the year 2020, wind and solar energy may supply 10% of the nation’s energy demands.  Other renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric dams, which currently generate about 8–10% of the nations electricity, are not expected to grow in demand.  Although hydroelectricity is viewed as a clean energy source, it does come at a high price of altering the natural flow of river water, nearby plant and wildlife habitats, and forcing some fish species near extinction.  The worksheet includes the URL for the U.S. Department of Energy web site.

"Chernobyl":  Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:56)
On 26 April 1986, one of the world’s largest nuclear accidents took place in Chernobyl, Ukraine.  The accident began at the Chernobyl power plant in reactor number four resulting from a safety test failure.  After the safety test failure, the reactor went through a series of explosions that eventually led to a nuclear meltdown that spread radiation throughout the Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Russia.  The official death toll from the accident was at least 32; however, some experts believe that the immediate explosion may not be responsible for numerous deaths.  Instead, they believe that the after effects of radiation may be responsible for many thousands of cases of thyroid cancer and many other radiation-related illnesses that still occur.  In nearby Poland, citizens were given potassium iodide (known as KI) within hours of the nuclear meltdown, and residents in that area did not have the high rates of thyroid cancer that other areas experienced.  This is because KI has been proven to prevent thyroid cancer only if it is taken within 3–4 hours after a radiation release.  Similarly, on 28 March 1979, another nuclear meltdown occurred on the Three Mile Island nuclear station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  Nearly 237,000 KI pills were organized by the federal government; however, the pills were useless since the public didn’t receive the pills until six days after the accident.  After the recent events, federal representatives such as Hillary Rodham Clinton are working toward having stockpiles of KI pills ready for residents who live within a 50 mile radius of any nuclear facility in the U.S.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Meserve believes that having stockpiles of KI would be a bad idea because it gives the public a false hope that they are protected against radiation.  In fact, KI only protects against thyroid cancer and not against other problems associated with radiation exposure.  The worksheet includes the URL for the CNN web site.

"Nuclear power plant safety": Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:03)
After the events of September 11th, the safety and security of the nation’s nuclear power facilities has come into question by federal officials and the public.  Many residents who live near nuclear power facilities are carrying potassium iodide or KI pills to prevent thyroid cancer, which can result from exposure to radiation.  Residents who live near New York’s Indian Point nuclear power plant keep KI pills ready for themselves and families should the unthinkable happen.  Officials at Indian Point comment that although the facility was not originally designed to withstand the impact of an airplane, that shouldn’t discourage nearby residents.  The containment buildings are protected by 3 1/2 feet of cement with 8 rows of interwoven reinforced steel, and officials believe that if a plane was to attempt to fly into the facility, it would most likely bounce off the containment walls.  Even though Indian Point officials believe there is no danger at stake, some residents still believe that any nuclear plant in a densely populated area and near five major airports should be shut down for safety precautions.

"Ethanol fueled vehicles":  Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:18)
On 15 March 2002, California Governor Gray Davis issued an executive order to phase out Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) to ethanol in California vehicle gasoline.  In addition, the order called for refineries to complete the transition from MTBE to ethanol by 31 December 2003.  The reason for the sudden change in gasoline additives is the discovery that MTBE pollutes groundwater.  The news of the sudden change was a windfall for Midwestern corn farmers, since ethanol is derived from corn.  Some farmers believe that the nationwide farm income could be increased by nearly 1 billion dollars due to the higher demand for ethanol.  For California drivers, the news is not as pleasant.  It is estimated that the use of ethanol may add 4–5 cents per gallon to California gas; however, if refineries have trouble supplying ethanol to consumers, then the cost of gas could be raised by 50 cents per gallon or more.  Some officials are concerned that although ethanol produces less air pollution, ethanol does not have a long shelf life, must be shipped separately from gasoline, and must then be added in at the last minute before it reaches the consumer.  California has the strictest air pollution standards in the U.S.  However, some experts believe that the addition of ethanol to gas is unnecessary, and an increase in fuel-efficient vehicles would make up for the difference of adding ethanol to gasoline.  The worksheet includes the URL for the California Energy Commission web site.

"Clean power act":  Environmental Science 5th Ed. CNN Ed 2002 (2:14) 
As a part of the latest efforts to curb greenhouse gases and global warming, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont put together the Clean Power Act of 2001.  The act proposed that all fossil fuel burning power plants cut their mercury emissions by 90%, sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 87% (from 1999 levels), nitrogen oxide (NOx) by 75% (from 1997 levels), and carbon dioxide (CO2) to 1990 levels.  In addition, the bill requires that all obsolete power plants update their equipment to standards by the 30th year of operation of the plant or by the 5th year after the bill has become law.  Power plant officials estimate that the updates to the plants may cost nearly 3 billion dollars and contend that the price of electricity may be raised in the interim to compensate for the losses.  New York officials comment that the benefits outweigh the costs, considering that air pollution in New York costs almost 60 billion dollars.  Some lawmakers believe that the bill’s chances of becoming a law are remote; however, it has made lawmakers aware of the problems of pollution.


"Conservation group warns of depletion of Earth’s resources" Associated Press. The Post and Courier. 22 October 2005
This article addresses the problem of human consumption on nonrenewable resources.  Also, it looks closely at different countries and how much of harmful ecological footprint they leave.

Articles in “Taking Sides” 

"Will Hydrogen Replace Fossil Fuels for Cars?” Easton, Thomas. Taking Sides: Science, Technology, and Society, sixth edition.
Issue Summary:
"Is It Time to Revive Nuclear Power?" Easton, Thomas. Taking Sides: Environmental Issues, eleventh edition.
Issue Summary:

"Should the United States Continue to Focus Plans for Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal Exclusively at Yucca Mountain?" Easton, Thomas. Taking Sides: Environmental Issues, eleventh edition.
Issue Summary:

"Will Hydrogen End Our Fossil-Fuel Addiction?".  Easton, TA.  Taking Sides:  Clashing views on environmental issues, twelfth edition.  2007 McGraw-Hill, p.170-189.
Issue Summary: