Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Save the Planet

So what did you do for Earth Day 2007? If the Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth” and the more than 1,400 Step It Up demonstrations which took place around the country last month are any sign, the environment has become a hot topic. And kids are naturally going to want to find out more. But for many children, hearing dire predictions and scary statistics about pollution and global warming is plain depressing; after all, this is their future we’re talking about. So with my own kids, and the students in my “Solar, Wind and Water Power” class, a focus on what individuals and communities can do to help protect our planet – especially projects they can try at home -- has been the way to go. A search for “kids” and “renewable energy” will turn up many useful sites. Here are some worth visiting:

Government agencies, utility companies and other commercial energy suppliers, and environmental advocates all have websites for kids with general information about energy alternatives. Just be aware that each has its own slant on the subject. The Kid’s Info page of Solar Energy International, a nonprofit educational organization, answers questions about the difference between solar thermal (heat) and photovoltaic (electricity-generating) energy, how PV cells work, and other interesting topics. Divided into sections for younger and older kids, it’s clearly written and integrated with useful links. Alliant Energy, a Wisconsin energy holding company, has a kids’ section on Energy and the Environment, with a page on renewable resources including biomass and geothermal. Explanations are concise and come with illustrations and links to photos and videos of actual installations such as wind turbines that tower over the Spirit Lake, Iowa, school playground.

Kids Korner, a feature available on the websites of power companies such as the Tri-State (sic) Generation and Transmission Association of Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico, is aimed at a younger audience, with helpful (if sometimes cloying) graphics. The U.S. Energy Information Agency’s Kids Page may be a bit over-detailed and hard to follow, but along with energy facts it offers virtual field trips to different energy producers from oil rigs to wind turbines, the history and the people involved, an Energy Conversion Calculator and more. And at the US Dept of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Motto: “Bringing you a prosperous future where energy is clean, abundant, reliable and affordable”), Dr. E’s Energy Lab (at a new URL since last mentioned in this column) has links to helpful sites.

Hands-on projects are a great way to learn about renewable energy. Re-Energy, a site from the Canada-based Pembina Institute, which works on environmental policy, has easy-to-follow construction plans for a wind turbine, biogas generator, solar car and more. Build It Solar has an excellent page of links to solar projects for kids, along with info for building “real” energy systems and eco-friendly entire houses. And the Solar Cooking Archive is the Internet authority on solar cookers of all kinds, with directions, recipes, and interesting information on how solar cookers are being used in parts of the world where traditional fuels are not available.

There ARE websites that can be helpful if you’re looking for a quick overview of global warming, or your kids are ready to delve into the details of climate change. Despite its wishy-washy approach – the overwhelming agreement of experts notwithstanding, the site only concedes that “many of the world's leading climate scientists” think human activity is helping to make the Earth warmer -- the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Kids Site is fairly complete and is presented in an easy-to-understand format. And The Weather Channel has a site called Climate Change - Forecast Earth, with short informative videos and news links. But I would steer clear of sites like OneWorld.net’s Kids Channel, whose cartoon penguin hosts presents facts about “megadeaths,” plague and Chernobyl, and blames global warming on “adults - including your parents and family.” Kids need hope, and it’s out there. As ClimateCrisis.net, the website for “An Inconvenient Truth” (and yes, my children did see and appreciate the movie) says:

“There is no doubt we can solve this problem. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so. Small changes to your daily routine can add up to big differences in helping to stop global warming. The time to come together to solve this problem is now – take action.”

Family Online Picks:

An Inconvenient Truth www.climatecrisis.net

Step it Up http://stepitup2007.org

Solar Energy International www.solarenergy.org/resources/kids.html

Alliant Energy Kids www.powerhousekids.com

Kids Korner http://tristate.apogee.net/kids

U.S. Energy Information Agency www.eia.doe.gov/kids

Dr. E’s Energy Lab www1.eere.energy.gov/kids

Re-Energy www.re-energy.ca

Build It Solar www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Educational/educational.htm

Solar Cooking www.solarcooking.org

EPA Climate Change for Kids http://epa.gov/climatechange/kids

The Weather Channel Climate Change - Forecast Earth http://climate.weather.com