Activities & Resources for Educators

To use in classrooms before, during, or after a self-lead visit to the NHM.

Alternative Energy -- Freeing Ourselves from Fossil Fuels

In the face of global warming there is an increasing need to find alternative energy sources that do not burn fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and petroleum which emit tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere annually. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and methane and trap heat. The majority of energy around the world comes from burning fossil fuels which provide fuel for transportation, manufacturing, running the Internet, producing food, powering our homes, and much more. When you think about it, fans, air conditioners, heaters, refrigerators, lights, and other electronics all need energy to work. The more emissions humans generate by burning fuels the hotter our planet becomes. 

Today and into the future the world will become more dependent on finding alternative energy sources which generate little or no greenhouse gases. This page explores six alternative energy methods including: solar, wind, ocean (wave and tidal), geothermal, hydroelectric, and biomass or biofuels. Different alternative energy methods work well together and integrating some of them into our power grid has already happened in most areas in the United States. Humboldt County hopes to power all towns and outlying areas using 100% renewable energy sources by 2030.

Alternative Energy Sources:

Solar energy taps into the energy produced by the sun. It can be used to generate electricity through solar panels or passively by allowing sunlight to hit surfaces or to enter a building through a window. Storage of solar is a problem as the sun is only out during the day and even then not much energy is generated during cloudy or stormy days.

Watch a video to find out more about solar energy 

Wind energy is another very clean energy source but similar to solar it only generates electricity on windy days and is difficult to store when there is little or no wind. Offshore wind farms are making advances and other smaller models are being produced to minimize the detrimental effects large spinning blades can have on birds and bats. Large wind farms can be off-putting as they are very large and can ruin the aesthetic beauty of scenic places.

Watch a video to find out more about wind energy

Wave and Tidal energy: If a community is near the ocean using either wave or tidal energy can be a great source of clean energy. Unlike solar or wind, the ocean waves never stop moving so there is less of a storage problem. Wave energy uses the circular motion of waves to run a generator and tidal energy uses the ebb and flow of daily tides to run a generator. Both are great additions to other alternative types if they are placed where they don't harm marine life.

Watch a video to find out more about wave and tidal energy

Hydroelectric energy: Similar to energy from the ocean, hydroelectric energy also uses energy produced by moving water but instead of tapping into movement from tides or waves, this method uses the movement of freshwater. Hydro can operate at different scales. Large hydro plants utilize dams which produce reservoirs. Holding back water and then releasing it can produce a lot of energy.  Because dams interrupt the natural flow of rivers, they can be harmful to surrounding ecosystems, especially fish. Smaller hydro plants are not as harmful to wildlife and don't require the building and maintenance of large dams.

Watch a video to find out more about hydroelectric energy

Geothermal energy: Many places around the world can take advantage of using the energy trapped inside Earth. When this subterranean heat comes close to the surface volcanoes, geysers, and hotsprings can occur. At these places such as the geysers south of Mendocino County, water is injected into wells which heats up and turns a turbine. As long as water is captured and recycled this type of system can be a clean renewable energy source. 

Watch a video to find out more about geothermal energy

Biomass: For millennia humans have been burning wood and other organic materials to cook with and to heat our homes. Today, materials that would otherwise go to a landfill such as wood chips, food waste, and agricultural byproducts can be burned cleanly in a furnace which heats up water to turn a turbine which creates electricity. Challenges using biomass include small amounts of greenhouse gases which are given off and there can be  high transportation costs involved.

Watch a video to find out more about using biomass for energy production

There are advantages and disadvantages to using all types of energy including others not mentioned here such as nuclear fuels. Oil and gas wells are messy and can create destructive oil spills. Burning coal causes horrible air quality and degrades habitats. Changing infrastructure in order to accommodate a growing demand of varying alternative energy sources is complex and expensive. 

Increasing the supply of renewable energy will allow us to lower greenhouse gas emissions which will improve air and water quality. A reduction of greenhouse gases will eventually help cool the planet and will reduce natural hazards such megafires, intense storms, and sea level rise. Together we can apply other solutions to the growing climate crisis as well such as conserving energy and making our homes and businesses more efficient. 


Redwood Resources

A list of Outdoor Education Centers

Redwood Resources for Educators

Save the Redwoods League Educator Resources

Redwood Forest Websearch

Palmer's Point Virtual Tidepool

Image of Plamer's Point Virtual TidepoolClick on the image to explore the tidepool.

Credit: Humboldt State University Place-Based Learning Communities: 

Around the Block...A Walk Through Time

This activity is appropriate for any one over the age of 4 years old, but kids MUST be accompanied by adults. The activity walks you through time, beginning outside our main door with point #1, marking the formation of the Earth 4.5 billion years ago.


Street Map of the natural history museum. Numbers placed along the map represent a period of years