National Environmental Education Week
This week (April 15-21, 2012) is National Environmental Education Week (EE Week – a sister program of Earth Gauge), the nation’s largest environmental education event held each year the week before Earth Day to inspire environmental learning and stewardship among students and the public.
This year’s EE Week theme is Greening STEM: The Environment as Inspiration for 21st Century Learning, highlighting the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in creatively addressing complex 21st century challenges. EE Week is focusing on how STEM applies to various environmental topics, including gardens and schoolyards, energy efficiency, geography, water resources and climate and weather.
To celebrate EE Week, Earth Gauge will provide daily Greening STEM information and tips to share with your audience this week. Visit eeweek.org/greening_stem to learn more about EE Week.
Download the EE Week logo. The EE Week logo and photos below are available for use on-air and online.
Friday, April 20: Weather and Climate
In the 1970s, meteorologist Ed Lorenz explained how a chain of events beginning with a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could spawn a tornado in Texas. This butterfly effect shows how a small event or change in one part of a complex system can trigger other events that together amplify the consequences of the initial event. Other systems like the human body and complex machinery are similar in this way to the climate system. For example, the fear and focus that a life-threatening situation demands is driven by the release just one molecule of adrenaline per two billion other molecules in the bloodstream. The failure of just one small but crucial part in a machine like a car can cause a break-down.
Other climate system examples of the butterfly effect include:
Ice Ages: Earth was cold enough 20,000 years ago for a massive ice sheet to extend from the Arctic all the way to the Midwest United States. The major difference in the planet’s state between then and now is driven by a comparatively trivial difference in the amount of energy received from the sun. This small difference, however, triggers processes within the climate system that amplify its effect.
Ocean Ecosystems: A 1.6 degree Fahrenheit warming of the waters in the North Sea has allowed several crab-like predators to move into the bottom waters and eat mussels. Mussel beds, like coral reefs, form a matrix on which hundreds of species depend. Their losses have had consequences for the entire ecosystem.
Central American Isthmus: Water used to flow freely between the Atlantic and Pacific before the Panama Seaway closed around six million years ago. This loss of direct exchange increased the salinity contrasts between the two oceans, causing major changes in ocean circulation and Earth’s climate.
(Sources: Lindley, JA et al. “Warm-water decapods and the trophic amplification of climate in the North Sea.” Biology Letters 6 (2010): 773-77 and Schmittner, A et al. “Effects of Mountains and Ice Sheets on Global Ocean Circulation.” Journal of Climate 24 (2011): 2814-2829 and Anthes, R. “Demons and Butterflies-Beating Predictability Theory.” New Orleans Convention Center, Room 252/253. New Orleans, Louisiana. 26 January 2012.)
Thursday, April 19: Water Resources
Water covers about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and is a key element in weather and climate systems. Water can be used for drinking, generating power, swimming and making products, such as clothing and food. But, water is not an infinite resource. There are lots of easy ways to help conserve and protect water.
- Look for WaterSense labeled products when replacing fixtures like showerheads or faucets. These products are independently certified to use less water than standard products.
- Lighten your number of loads. Did you know washing clothes is the second largest use of indoor water? Combine small loads to eliminate one load per week, and you’ll save 2,100 gallons of water per year. You’ll save energy, too.
- When watering a lawn or garden, make sure to spray only on the lawn and plant beds – not the sidewalk, driveway or street.
Wednesday, April 18: Geography Connections
Geography is all around us and connects us to the world. STEM helps us understand the physical features of the Earth and how they influence climate and ecosystems.
- Geography and weather are closely linked. The Sierra Nevada Mountains that run north-south through California basically separate the Western United States into a wetter (west) side and a drier (east) side; the Rocky Mountains are the driving force for blizzards in the Great Plains; the Great Lakes help generate lake effect snow; and breezes off the Atlantic Ocean keep temperatures along the coast cooler than inland areas.
- Geographical features like mountains and water bodies also have a major impact on where plants and animals live. For example, the state of Alabama has more diversity of plants and animals than any other state east of the Mississippi River due to its four river basins!
Tuesday, April 17 – Energy Efficiency
Did you know energy use at schools across the United States costs an estimated $6 billion? Or that the typical U.S. household spends at least 2000 dollars per year on utility bills? Many newer technologies help us save energy at home and in schools and other buildings.
- A programmable thermostat allows you to turn on heating or air conditioning according to a pre-set schedule. Investing in a programmable thermostat can save up to ten percent per year on your electricity bills!
- Look for ENERGY STAR qualified light bulbs – they use about 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last at least 6 times longer. They also produce about 75 less heat than traditional bulbs.
- Use energy management settings on computers, such as the sleep function, to save energy. Turn your laptop or desktop computer off when you’re not using it.
Monday, April 16 – Gardens and Schoolyards
Gardens and schoolyards can be great learning environments. Not only can you learn about plants and animals, but you also get to spend time outdoors! If you’re building a spring garden at home or at school, bring science, technology and math into the picture.
- Choose native plants for your garden and learn what kinds of local wildlife will benefit from them. You can learn more about native plant species where you live at wildflower.org/explore/.
- Install a rain barrel. Rain barrels conserve water and save money. By attaching a rain barrel to a downspout, you can collect a substantial amount of rainfall from the roof to use for watering your garden. A rain barrel also offers the perfect opportunity to bring out your artistic side by adding a fun design on the outside of it.
- Install a rain gauge. Rain gauges are used to measure how much rain has fallen in your area. Use math to add up and track how much rain your yard received in a given week or month.
Check back daily for new information and tips!