Audubon Adventures

Earth sunriseEarth's climate is changing. The kinds of fuels used to produce energy for human activities are the main cause.

When you turn on a light, turn up the heat, charge a cell phone, or ride in a car or bus, do you think of tiny animals and plants that lived on Earth millions of years ago? Probably not, and why should you? Here’s why: All of those activities use energy, and chances are pretty good that the energy you’re using comes from coal, oil, or natural gas. Those energy sources were formed from tiny animals and plants that died millions of years ago. As hundreds, thousands, and millions of years passed, the decayed bodies of these ancient organisms became buried. Then as millions more years passed, pressure, heat, and water turned the decayed bodies into the coal, oil, and natural gas that people have used as a main source of energy. We call them “fossil fuels” because a fossil is what remains in the present of a plant or animal that lived long, long ago.

Power from Fossil Fuels

For more than 150 years, people have been using more and more fossil fuels. The one you are probably most familiar with is the gasoline that people use to power millions of cars and trucks every day. Gasoline is made from oil. Coal, oil, and natural gas are also used to make the electricity that powers machines of all kinds, heats and cools our homes and businesses, and lights the darkness.

Burrowing OwlScientists are learning about climate change by studying how it affects birds like this Burrowing Owl.

What We Know and What We’re Learning

Now we know that using fossil fuels for all those years—and continuing to do so—is causing problems on Earth. It contributes to air pollution and is the main cause of climate change. Scientists, researchers, and others are identifying ways that climate change is already affecting the lives of people, wildlife, and plants. At Audubon, scientists are discovering that we can learn a lot about climate change by taking a close look at how it’s affecting birds.

Energy Sources That Don’t Contribute to Climate Change

Fossil fuels are not the only sources of energy available to keep the world running. Here are three that don’t contribute to climate change or pollution. There’s another benefit, too: They are renewable, which means we’ll never run out of them.

Power from the sun’s rays. As long as the sun is shining, we’ll have solar energy, and it doesn’t contribute to climate change. Buildings can be designed to collect energy directly from the sun for heating and cooling. Solar panels can collect the sun’s energy and us it to produce electricity in homes, and big ones can power whole office or apartment buildings. In sunny places, solar “farms” with hundreds or thousands of solar panels could produce electricity for cities and even entire countries.

Power from the wind. Wind is air in motion. A turbine is a machine that changes motion into power people can use. A wind turbine has huge blades that move with the wind. As the blades turn, wind power is changed into electricity.

Power from the Earth. Energy that comes from just below Earth’s surface or deep in its core is called geothermal energy. Beginning about 10 feet underground, the temperature stays the same year-round—warmer than the air in winter and cooler in summer. Heat pumps can suck air or water from below ground to heat buildings in winter and cool them in summer. Much further down, Earth’s core is so hot that rainwater draining down through cracks is super-heated and shoots to the surface as geysers and hot springs. Deep, deep wells can reach this hot water and use it to power machines that produce clean electricity.

Find Out More!

Do you want to find out what birds are telling us about climate change, how young people are getting involved, and important things you can do to help protect Planet Earth? Start by opening up the Audubon Adventures student magazine in the column on the right. Then explore other parts of the website. Have fun while you’re learning!

Photos: (t to b) Patricia Monteiro; ingimage; Heidi Piccerelli/Audubon Photography Awards; Photodisc.