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How Cheeseburgers Impact the Oceans

Jennifer Provencher, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre

In this activity, students examine the energy required to make a cheeseburger, calculate its associated carbon footprint, and discuss the carbon emissions related to burger production. The activity is geared toward Canadian students but can be customized to the consumption patterns and carbon footprint of American students since the resource references the amount of burgers consumed by Americans in addition to Canadians.

Activity takes one class period.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Human activities have increased GHG levels and altered global climate patterns
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6c

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Many different units are used to quantify energy.
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1.7 Units of energy.
Products and services carry with them embedded energy.
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6.7 Embedded energy.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
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6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
Humans live within Earth's ecosystems.
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3.6 Humans live within Earth's ecosystems..

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Instructors may want students to follow up this activity by finding their own carbon footprint.
  • Grouping students that are math-savvy and students that struggle with math would be a good way to avoid discouraging weaker students.
  • There are two broken links in the resource section: the link to the methane emission graph (third bullet); and the link to the "good site" for looking at other forms of energy and how to convert units (4th from last bullet).
  • There are advertisements on the conversion website under resources.

About the Science

  • This resource carves the carbon produced from beef consumption out of carbon footprint calculation exercises and thus is more detailed and focused in its inputs and calculations.
  • Calculations are based on a report from 2000. The educator can update these numbers to reflect present-day values.
  • Comments from expert scientist: It's a good idea to connect students to their environmental effects through consumption of cheeseburgers. The activity has good science, but very poor pedagogy. It could cause confusion about the sources and effects of methane and carbon dioxide. Students do a lot of manipulations with numbers, but have no framework for interpreting the significance of those numbers.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students read articles and view graphs and charts to calculate the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger. The lesson is accompanied by a good 7-minute video clip on methane emissions from the Canadian government: http://www.science.gc.ca/default.asp?Lang=En&n=7F9A808A-1
  • The activity makes a connection with students' everyday lives. This is engaging and a good "hook" for a module on personal energy use and mitigation strategies.
  • Students who are math-challenged might need some guidance.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The directions are clear and detailed.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

EPA's methane website contains links to methane source data: http://www.epa.gov/methane/. This document contains the lbs CO2/kwh for electricity generated in various areas of the United States: ftp://ftp.eia.doe.gov/environment/co2emiss00.pdf.

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