The geography of energy: The interplay of place, ecology, and energy production and use
With the advent of horizontal high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), public interest in the energy system, the environmental, social and economic impacts of energy production and use skyrocketed in certain areas. Seizing this teachable moment, and with funding from the National Science Foundation, the Paleontological Research Institution has engaged in public outreach and educator professional development related to hydrofracking and the broader energy system. Much of the work is done in partnership with experts from Cornell University, including the Cooperative Extension.
How can we best capitalize on HVHF as a teachable moment for building energy literacy? All industrial-scale energy production is environmentally damaging, though the nature of impacts differ in ways that make direct comparison challenging. Like all controversial issues, hydraulic fracturing is an interdisciplinary issue. To understand the issue deeply, it must be understood in the context of the broader energy system, and understandings of ecology, geology, geography, hydrology, economics, anthropology, and engineering all enrich that deeper learning. Fossil fuels and nuclear power are much more energy dense than renewables (once fuel is extracted). The nature of energy use and production varies widely across the US, and different energy sources have substantially different footprints and life cycle effects.
As of February 2014, face-to-face programming has directly reached on the order of 2000 participants (primarily educators), a series of short publications on different aspects of the Marcellus Shale and the energy system, a book for educators and lay readers has been published (synthesized and extended from the earlier series of pamphlets), and an online interactive presentation has been accessed 10,000 times. Essential to the work, and part of our obligation to NSF, was to avoid advocacy either for or against hydraulic fracturing. Anecdotal comparison to other efforts indicates that advocacy can deepen conviction more than understanding. Results beyond reach are difficult to quantify, but the extent of the reach is substantial and indicative of substantial engagement with the programming and materials we’ve created.
The presentation will highlight resources and lessons learned for educational outreach related specifically to hydraulic fracturing and those that we believe more broadly applicable. This includes the use of a place-based approach to energy literacy; the importance of complexifying the seemingly simple while also attending to an important bottom-line message: we need to use less energy.