Lesson 1: Introduction

1a. A Family You May Know

Let’s visit a family in the community of Teesto, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. Teesto is 44 miles north of Winslow, AZ. The Navajos are the largest tribe in the United States and their land covers about 17 million acres in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. This area is part of a larger region of the United States known as the Colorado Plateau.

Colorado Plateau map

Colorado Plateau map. Courtesy of Grand Canyon Trust.

Environment near Teesto

Environment near Teesto. Photo courtesy of Joëlle Clark

Teesto is arid, with scattered plants and few trees. The family has lived in the area for generations. They notice the environment around them changing. Spring is coming earlier and plants are blooming sooner. Streams and water wells no longer flow as they did in the past. In the region, scientists report that the area is experiencing drought and desertification. This means the area is getting even drier with fewer plants and trees.

The Navajo family we are visiting live off the land. They raise livestock such as sheep, goats, horses, and cattle. They sell the wool from their sheep and goats and the meat from their livestock. They also make and sell traditional Navajo jewelry, woven rugs, and baskets. The family lives in a modern home with electricity, but no running water. They haul water for cooking, washing, and drinking. They must haul water for their livestock too.

Teesto family home with nearby sand dunes

Teesto family home with nearby sand dunes. Photo courtesy of Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, Northern Arizona University.

Another issue the family faces is moving sand dunes. Sand dunes form when the wind blows with enough energy to pick up and move sand from one area to deposit it in another. Sometimes strong winds carry and deposit large amounts of sand in short periods of time.

The dunes near the family’s home are growing closer and larger. They sometimes need to dig their vehicle out of the sand by hand after a storm. This can prevent them from going to town for groceries or to miss a hospital visit. The sand dunes on the road leading to the house must be cleared with a tractor for the school bus to come pick up their children. Since the family does not have running water, they use an outhouse or outdoor toilet. They often have to dig it to out from under the growing sand dunes.

Buried outhouse in Teesto sand dune

Buried outhouse in Teesto sand dune. Photo courtesy of Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, Northern Arizona University.

If they do not keep sand away from their home and outhouse, this Navajo family will have to rebuild in a different location. For this Navajo family, moving would create a financial hardship and cultural loss. Many Navajo traditions are tied to the home and surrounding area.

How can we help this family?

  1. Challenge: In a small group, discuss the family’s situation. How could you stop the sand dune? Come up with 3 ideas that you think might help this family. Write them down in your Colorado Plateau Carbon Connections notebook your teacher will provide for you.

Luckily for the Teesto family, scientists are interested in the growth of the sand dunes. These changes to the landscape provide information about short and long-term effects of climate change in the region. For example, Dr. Margaret Hiza-Redsteer of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Flagstaff, AZ and her students are working to help create solutions for sand dune movement. They study the rate of growth of the dunes, take aerial photos of the dunes, and monitor the wind and precipitation in the area.

Sand sausage grid on Teesto sand dune

Sand sausage grid on Teesto sand dune. Photo courtesy of Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, Northern Arizona University.

Working with the scientists, the community has tried one idea to slow the growth of the sand dunes. Sand sausages! Sand sausages are fabric tubes made from a corn-based material. The tubes are filled with sand from the dune and laid out in a grid-like pattern. Within each square of the grid, small mud balls containing native seeds are planted. The idea for this system is to capture the wind blown sand, slow the growth of the dune, and help native plants grow after rainfalls. This technique of using sand sausages in grids was first used on sand dunes in Mongolia.

Now that we have visited this family, take a minute to think about where you live. What kind of environment is it? What changes do you see in the environment?

  1. In CP Carbon Connections, you'll be doing a number of activities. These will be related to the following four words: You, carbon, climate change, energy use.
    1. Write the 4 words from above in your notebook. Arrange them so that some space is between them.
    2. Write short phrases to show how you think the words might be related. You don't need to "get" a correct answer at this point. You're just writing the ideas you have now. This may help you see what you’ve learned when you finish CP Carbon Connections.

1b. Climate versus Weather

We learned in our visit to the Navajo family that the climate is changing. What is the difference between climate and weather? Does the air feel hotter or colder today than it did this same day last year? When you think about temperature or rainfall, recent weather events are probably the freshest in your mind. These events can change quickly — who knows what the temperature or precipitation will be next week?! That's weather.

Climate is very different than your day-to-day weather. Climate tells you the average pattern of temperature in your region. The average is from years and years of data. For example, imagine that you got data on the high temperature each day of July for 50 years or more in Window Rock, Arizona. The average of those daily highs would be about 84.3°F (29.0°C). While some days surely had high temperatures in the 90s, other days were probably in the low 80s. Still, the average temperature of 84.3°F is what you might expect or even predict the temperature to be in Window Rock in July. Another climate indicator for July in Window Rock is average precipitation, which is 1.7 inches (4.3 cm) of rain.

Questions about climate aren't just local though. They are global. Weather is local. Questions about climate span the earth. They affect us all in some way. We're all connected through interactions among the land, oceans, and atmosphere. If you want to understand climate better, you have to learn about these interactions.

1c. A Bright Idea

A visit to an American Indian community and thinking about climate is a good way to start CP Carbon Connections. Continue in the steps below with your teacher. It will start you thinking about how you can make connections among you, your community, energy use, carbon, and climate change.

Energy Monitor

Energy Monitor

  1. Your teacher will show you a common object. What words are written on it? What do the words mean?
  2. From your experience, you have an idea how much light energy a 40-Watt bulb gives off. What if the bulb wasn't labeled correctly? Can you think of a way to measure the energy use of the bulb?
  3. Use the steps below to compare the 40-Watt bulb with other appliances in your classroom.
    1. Make a list all appliances that are plugged into a wall or cord.
    2. Choose 1 or 2 of these. When they are "on," do you think that they use more or less electric energy than a 40-Watt bulb? Discuss as a class. The class will vote on your predictions.
    3. Measure the energy use of 1-2 appliances. Write your results in your notebook.
    4. Over the next 2 weeks, you can bring in appliances from your home to measure. What are you curious to measure?

1d. Reflection and Summary

By now you must have many questions about what we will be learning in CP Carbon Connections! Write your responses to the questions below in your science notebook. You can discuss your ideas with a partner, but you must write your own complete answers too.

  1. Why do you think the sand dunes are increasing in size in the Navajo community of Teesto?
  2. Do you think the climate is changing? Why or why not?
  3. What questions do you have about climate change?
  4. How can we understand climate change better?
  5. How does the energy use you measured in the classroom today relate to climate change?