Lesson 9: It Starts Here


Did you and your family have new ideas about reducing how much energy you use? Share the ideas you and your family members had.

Reducing energy use, and especially energy from fossil fuels, is important for many reasons. We need to find alternatives to meet the energy needs of future generations. We also want to avoid international conflicts over energy resources. In addition, using fossil fuels leads to other pollutants besides greenhouse gases. Today, you will:


9a. Global Solutions

Reducing your carbon footprint is a key part of reducing greenhouse gases. You can guess, however, that other changes must occur to solve this global challenge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the top international group of climate experts, has determined that, to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the average global temperature should not rise more than 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels. To accomplish this we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions between 50 and 85% by the year 2050. This is a big challenge.

To reach this challenge, we need to reduce carbon emissions a few ways. One way is by conserving energy. The carbon calculator helped you see how to make your carbon footprint smaller. Another way is by using renewable energy. When communities like yours use renewable energy, which also leads to a smaller carbon footprint.

9b. Where does your electricity come from?

In small groups, discuss and write down your answers to the following questions:

  1. Where does the electrical energy in your classroom come from?
  2. How is electrical energy produced for your school? ...your home? ...your community?
  3. What methods do you know that produce electricity without adding CO2 to the atmosphere?
  4. Do you know of buildings that use alternative energy sources?

In Northern Arizona, you are most likely using energy from a coal-fired power plant. These power plants burn coal to boil water that produces steam to spin a turbine. This generates the electricity that travels in power lines to your home and school.

Much of the electricity in your community comes from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). NGS provides electricity to more than 3 million people in Arizona, Nevada and California. It also provides the energy to pump the water in the Central Arizona Project, which supplies the Phoenix area with much of its water.

Do you know where the coal for NGS comes from? It comes from the Kayenta Coal Mine on Black Mesa. This is part of the Navajo Nation. The Black Mesa region has the largest coal deposits in the United States. Kayenta mine produces over 7.5 million tons of coal a year and stretches for many miles along the surface of the mesa. It is owned by Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world. The Kayenta mine can supply the Navajo Generating Station with coal to produce electricity for many decades.

Kayenta Mine

Kayenta Mine. Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Water Coalition

There are over 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States including four on the Colorado Plateau. Power plants are the largest source of our nation’s CO2 emissions. This is also true for other developed countries. Coal burning plants supply half of U.S. electricity; yet contribute 80% of the CO2 emitted from U.S. power plants. This is because coal releases more CO2 to produce the same amount of energy as other power plants. If we could replace coal power plants with power plants that release less CO2 we could reduce emissions significantly.

Carbon Emission Rank

The Peabody Coal Company is a major employer on the Colorado Plateau.These jobs are especially important to the economy of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, as unemployment in the Four Corners area is extremely high.Moving from coal to alternative sources of energy would reduce jobs in the coal industry; yet new jobs would be created in the renewable energy industry.

9c. Renewable Energy

You can see that changing how we produce electricity would make a huge difference in our carbon footprint. But can we really replace most electrical energy production with methods that release almost no CO2 into the atmosphere? In small groups, discuss and answer the following questions.

  1. What does the term ‘renewable energy' mean?
  2. What are three different examples of renewable energy?
  3. What kinds of renewable energy would work best on the Colorado Plateau? Why?
Solar Panels

You probably know a little about solar, wind and hydroelectric power. These are all considered "carbon-neutral" because they do not release much CO2. Can your community use these alternative energy strategies on the Colorado Plateau?

The Colorado River already has several large dams. It is unlikely that new dams will be built. However, many places on the Colorado Plateau have enough wind for electricity. And, the Southwest has the greatest potential to produce solar energy of any region in the U.S.! The Arizona Department of Commerce has said that solar energy from Arizona could be an "economy defining" chance for jobs and income in the coming decade. In California, over 20% of electricity now comes from renewable sources. This will grow to 33% by the year 2020. In Arizona, less than 1% of electricity comes from wind or solar. Arizona's present goal is for just 15% through renewable energy by 2025. Recall that the IPCC recommends reducing greenhouse gas emissions by much more!

9d. You Aren't Alone!

Reducing emissions is not as easy as flipping-off a switch or buying an efficient refrigerator. It requires that you act not only as a consumer, but also as a citizen. As a citizen, you educate yourself on important issues. You vote for leaders whom you think will govern wisely. You can run for political office or work in government to promote what you think is best. You work with others in your community to achieve your goals. You have many choices, many opportunities, many tools. You can bring about the change you wish to see in the world — from light bulbs to leadership.

Students Working

Many exciting projects are already on the move on the Colorado Plateau. You can learn, and then teach others, about some of these projects!

Your teacher will give you a card. The card has a location, and a brief description of a current project. Read your card. Find where the project is

located on the map. When your classmates are all done, you will each present answers to the following:

9e. Summary

During the last two weeks you have studied the science of climate, plus some key ways you can make a difference. You have also learned about projects where people are working together to reduce carbon emissions. But what will you do — as a student, a consumer, a citizen?