Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Sustainable Frontier Ethic: Reclaiming Non-Renewable Energy Sites

This month’s blog topic, Land & Cleanup, is far more personally relevant than I expected! Beautiful spring-like weather coerced me to do my annual yard cleanup much earlier than usual. Even though I’ve xeriscaped significantly, non-native invasive vines and saplings commandeer a good bit of physical energy each season.

Speaking of energy, the previous post focused on one kind of renewable energy: solar. The Great Buffalo Shortage activity helps students learn how to weigh the trade-offs of mining operations, a common way of extracting non-renewable energy sources. Like the buffalo, that almost became extinct, without proper management, we may lose the environment itself. Click on the image below or right here to review a truly hands-on model that offers a fun formative assessment!

Many students tend to believe that mining always produces a profit. They may not know about the regulations governing mining and requirements for land management or how to weigh the yield. As detailed on the EPA’s abandoned mine lands site, AMLs present serious threats to human health and the environment… not to mention often extreme scarring of the land. I think it’s well worth your time to scroll way down NASA’s remote sensing tutorial page to see satellite images of long term changes in resource use, such as strip mining and the progress of land reclamation.

Instructor Notes: It’s sadly easy to relate real-world stories of energy-related environmental destruction back to almost every activity I’ve shared to date! Think about the implications of mining operations in terms of systems (Balancing Acts), adaptation (Moth Mothers), food webs (Oops, I Broke It), and population (No More Room), for starters. That’s why I was so happy to see a new Fact Sheet added to the EPA resource site just this past December. Directly related to the Energy Watchers activity, Shining Light on a Bright Opportunity: Developing Solar Energy on Former Mine Lands provides a great summary of solar energy – and how abandoned mining areas can serve as ‘renewed’ sites for renewable energy production.

HippoCampus Connections: Several excellent resources on HippoCampus support an understanding of why the revitalization and reuse of damaged land – and protection of land in general – is important to each of us. The Mining for Borax video shows a real-world success story of managing this balance. Unsustainable Frontier Ethic simulation shows why it’s critical we find and maintain a balance by explaining desert encroachment. Tree Harvesting explains how we can mechanically remove a renewable resource in a sustainable way. The Fight to Preserve the Bollana Wetlands presents a case study of how citizens took action to save a local environment from over-development. Other related items of possible interest include: Mine Restoration and Area Strip Mining.

FYI: I’ve set up playlists on myHippo page at the new HippoCampus site to match all of these blog activities for your convenience.

Even though your students may not have direct exposure to mining operations, other than the many historic towns that come to mind initially (Leadville, CO for example), there are many active operations globally. See what’s closest to home on the USGS Mine and Mineral Processing Plant Locations map – and then see if your students agree with the practices and policies in place there today!