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The Nature Conservancy


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Biology, Engineering

Resource Types

  • Articles and Websites
  • Interactive Media
  • Scientific Papers or Reports

Regional Focus




Energy Sprawl Interactive Tool

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  • This interactive tool demonstrates how the growing need for energy will impact land use and carbon emissions. 
  • Students will learn how fossil fuels and renewable energy sources affect land use. Fossil fuels increase carbon emissions, while renewables may require large amounts of land. 
  • A variety of case studies and reports show how scientists are trying to balance global energy needs with the dual threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Teaching Tips


  • The interactive tool does a good job of showing the trade-offs for different types of energy.
  • The case studies are available as a downloadable PDF.

Additional Prerequisites

  • In order to generate the infographic, users must click the "generate tradeoffs" link, which is located at the bottom left-hand side of the interactive tool.
  • The tool only takes into account CO2 emissions, so it does not take into account air pollution, water pollution, other greenhouse gas emissions, or other social and environmental costs of the fossil fuels.
  • Before using this tool, you may want to explore other ways of reducing the land needed for renewables by integrating distributed renewable energy, tidal energy, off-shore wind, or installing solar panels on roofs, roads, and other surfaces already in use.


  • Prior to showing this resource to students, science teachers could could ask students to name and discuss energy sources that they believe cause no harm to the environment. As an exit ticket, students could write a short paragraph about how the interactive tool may have changed their preconceptions about energy sources.
  • Geography or engineering classes could read parts of Improving Hydropower Outcomes: Myanmar (located in the resources section) and discuss what geographical features are needed for a region to make use of hydropower.
  • Other resources on this topic include this Project Look Sharp lesson on comparing types of renewable energy, this activity and worksheet on energy sources, and this interactive energy data explorer
Scientist Notes
The resource describes the trade-offs in energy consumption, production and impacts on land footprints. This is interactive and it evaluates future carbon footprints. This resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Science
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
      • MS-ESS3-4. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
      • HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
    • LS2: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics Within Ecosystems
      • MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
      • HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
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