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Performance Benchmark N.12.B.2
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Nature of Science
Scientific Inquiry
Science, Technology, and Society
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Nature of Science (NOS)
Life Science
Earth Science
Physical Science

Students know consumption patterns, conservation efforts, and cultural or social practices in countries have varying environmental impacts. E/S

All our daily activities involve some use of natural resources. Generally speaking, how we use our resources is embedded in our cultural and social practices. For example, we use paper freely without thinking about what types of raw materials are needed or what by-products are generated. The amount of energy, resources, by-products and waste generated by making paper is not generally a concern for us. The same is true for all the familiar and not so familiar products and processes that we rely on daily as a society. How our expectations for everyday life impact our environment is not a concern for the majority of our citizens.

What are consumptive patterns? Consumption is the use of goods and materials to satisfy human needs. These needs are generally determined by the society in which we live. The term consumption can have both negative and positive connotations. Consuming goods and materials to satisfy basic human needs implies a survival mechanism. Consuming goods and materials for enjoyment can lead us to a discussion of sustainable living and the over consumption of resources that leads to non-sustainable consumptive patterns. For example, the over-reliance on automobiles for transportation has lead to an appetite for oil that exceeds the resource. This consumptive pattern among countries relying on the automobile has caused environmental impacts such air and water pollution. The environmental impact might be studied in terms of degradation to the environment but also to the health of populations in the affected communities.

In another example, the cultural/social consumptive practice of consuming shark tail fins has resulted in a decline in populations of certain shark species. These two cited examples might be classified as cultural consumptive patterns that are unsustainable and have serious environmental impacts. Several years ago, a popular chef publicized the recipe for blackened red snapper which lead to the catastrophic decline in the population of this species. Many chefs now routinely use “sustainable” recipes that don’t impact one species in such a manner.

The nature of consumption is a sobering reminder that in using resources there is always a positive and negative impact. The negative aspect reminds us that resource use always involves a trade off. Continued consumption is possible if our resources can be renewed and made available on a sustained basis (

Another aspect to consumptive patterns is the amount of consumption. As indicated above, the over use of one species of fish lead to its species decline. Humans need clothing to keep themselves protected, warm and comfortable yet many people are influence by fashion trends and have wardrobes of clothing exceeding their needs. Modern clothing employs many synthetic fibers which are petroleum based products. Once again, there is an over reliance on one particular resource.

To learn about the environmental impacts of electricity generation technologies (i.e., coal, oil, nuclear, hydroelectric, etc.) and the environmental impacts of various energy resources (i.e., water resource use, solid waste generation, land resource use, etc.), go to

Important educational efforts include helping students understand resource use in conjunction with community attitudes and needs. Recycling practices need to be discussed and reviewed with students. Brainstorming activities can help students develop imaginative solutions. Recognizing that man’s reliance on resources is psychological, physical and physiological will help the students understand the complexity of the concept of consumption.

Water is a critical natural resource for survival. The limited abundance of water in Nevada elevates discussion about resource availability, depletion, environmental degradation and conservation. Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority says that water usage is steeped in our attitudes, culture and history. Early pioneers came to this area because of the abundance of natural springs. Almost immediately, they realized that only a small agrarian population could be sustainable in this environment. They also learned that a desert environment can become treacherous during rainfall resulting in erosion and degradation of fragile land resources. Not understanding the desert environment creates a non-sustainable use of the limited water resources.

Las Vegas (2007) has a population rapidly approaching 2 million citizens who have come from all parts of the country and the world. These citizens bring their cultural understandings and attitudes about water with them. Attempting to recreate tropical jungles and beautiful green lawns does not let us manage our precious water resource. Even with conservation efforts, Las Vegas seeks water from other locations within the state. Fortunately, the water districts are working to educate the population about sustainable methods of using water through their Las Vegas Springs Preserve.

Origen Exhibit at the Las Vegas Preserve
In this exhibit at the Preserve, the public can explore the history of the Las Vegas Valley from early American cultures to Anglo-European settlers. Newcomers to the Valley can become familiar with the history of water use over the past several centuries. The ORIGEN Experience captures the essence of the land, the early inhabitants and the many possibilities for Las Vegas’ future.

Early Las Vegas inhabitants
Figure 1. The ORIGEN Experience at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.

To learn more about the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, visit their robust website at

The Las Vegas Water Authority works diligently within the community and with other government agencies to conserve the water that returns to Lake Mead. There is a complex relationship between the amount of water that Southern Nevada withdraws from the Colorado River (via Lake Mead) and the amount of water that is returned to the river. Credits are issued by the federal government through the Colorado River Compact. The Las Vegas Wash is the main channel returning water. Over the years, efforts have been fortified to prevent water loss and land erosion. Students can study the Wash by visiting the Las Vegas Wash website. The water district exemplifies the best aspects of sustainable resource in the description that follows this photograph.

Las Vegas Wash
Figure 2. The Las Vegas Wash

Recycling Las Vegas History at the Wash
On March 13, 2007, the Stardust Casino was reduced to rubble in a grand implosion that echoed throughout the Las Vegas Valley. The much celebrated demolition event garnered television coverage and national media attention with articles in the New York Times and USA Today. When it opened in 1958 the Stardust was touted as the biggest and best hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip. As the years passed it became infamous as the host of Hollywood films and real life mafia characters. But like many classic casinos on the Strip, it began to pale in comparison with the newer casinos, and was slated for demolition to make way for progress. The implosion amid the fanfare reduced the 32-story Stardust to 170,000 tons of debris.

What should be done with so many tons of debris? To place it all in landfill would be one way to get rid of it, but it would be a shame for the remnants of a Las Vegas icon to be forgotten. So, to give these oldhotels a second life, the Southern Nevada Water Authority works with demolition and development companies to acquire and use the broken concrete as riprap embankments in the Las Vegas Wash.

To learn more about the Las Vegas Wash visit

Las Vegas Wash capital improvements plan map
Figure 3. Map of the Las Vegas Wash showing placement of concrete debris to create riprap
embankments which prevent soil erosion. (from

Thus far only water has been discussed as one resource that can be conserved through business, community and government efforts. Further discussions with students can center on the concept of sustainability and the positive aspects of recycling. The Sustainability Gallery at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve reveals the use of native plants, recycling of many ordinary objects, and selecting resources based on environmental impacts. As mentioned above the Southern Nevada Water Authority reuses concrete debris from hotels that have been imploded.

Sustainability at the Desert Living Center

Figure 4. A life-size garbage truck made of recycled materials is also a theater.

Students can relate easily to community efforts to recycle newspaper and aluminum cans. One of the most important concepts for students to understand is the nature of local attitudes towards environmental issues. Teachers need to help students understand that moving towards “greener” energy sources have economic impacts as well as hidden environmental impacts. Class discussions can focus on efforts to conserve water in the southern Nevada but also in other parts of the country as well. Efforts to conserve any and all of our resources through common sense practices should be emphasized.

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Performance Benchmark N.12.B.2

Students know consumption patterns, conservation efforts, and cultural or social practices in countries have varying environmental impacts. E/S

Common misconceptions associated with this benchmark.

1. Students incorrectly think that conservation is only an American concept.

The reality of this misconception is that many countries have conservation efforts that protect and preserve their natural resources. Costa Rica is a country dedicated to preserving its natural resources.

This site describes the efforts of Costa Ricans to conserve and preserve their resources. Descriptions about the pros and cons of ecotourism are emphasized.

2. Students incorrectly think that conserving resources is being a “tree hugger.”

The reality of this statement is that many media outlets have distorted reports about the environmental impacts of various practices involving resource use. The public has developed a mistrust of environmental efforts to protect resources.

These two sites confront the problems posed by conservation and the ever-changing challenges involving politics, cultures, and economies.

3. Students incorrectly think that only other countries waste resources.

Americans routinely believe that other people are the source of the problem while failing to recognize that waste is a by-product of human activity. Helping students understand that their actions have environmental impacts will help them understand how conservation and sustainable practice can have positive impacts on their lives. By better understanding waste issues and changing habits, students can understand how they can improve their community and the environment around them.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed materials for high school teachers and students that address issues relate to resource use and conservation practices that provide positive ideas and projects. This information can be accessed at

4. Students incorrectly think that sustainability costs more.
The sustainable approach may require a greater commitment of time and a focused effort, but it frequently costs less to implement than a conventional design. Moreover, a guiding concept of sustainability is to evaluate efficiency using total lifecycle cost. By that measure, initial capital costs pale in comparison to human costs, and to the potential gains from even modest improvements in worker productivity that sustainable treatments often support.

The following website has a question and answer format addressing some of the more poignant issues regarding sustainable design. They state that the sustainable approach may require a greater commitment of time and a focused effort, but it frequently costs less to implement than a conventional design.

5. Students incorrectly think that sustainability is too complex to be achievable.
The difficulty with the term sustainability is that most people don’t know what it means. Many people think it is just about sustaining ourselves economically and don’t look at the environmental and social aspects that are crucial to sustainability. Additionally, there have been hundreds of different definitions for sustainability that vary in specificity. This makes it difficult to achieve a widespread, commonly accepted concept of sustainability. A frequently cited definition is “improving the quality and equity of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.” Finally, many people believe that sustainability pits the environment against business, when in fact business must play a critical role in creating sustainability.

The University of Colorado has a question and answer page about the concept of sustainability. Please see

6. Students incorrectly think that energy is associated with humans or movement.
For example, students believe energy is associated only with humans or movement, is a fuel-like quantity which is used up, or is something that makes things happen that is expended in the process. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) Although students typically hold these meanings for energy at all ages, upper elementary-school students tend to associate energy only with living things, in particular with growing, fitness, exercise, and food. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) In addition to not readily understanding the conservation of energy, students do not understand that once energy is converted, it is not necessarily in a usable form.

This website contains student lessons on energy. The focus of this section of the website is on a lesson designed to help students investigate and evaluate renewable energy sources. See

7. Students incorrectly think that holes in the ozone lead to enhanced green house effects.

Regarding air pollution and damage to the ozone layer through use of CFC’s, many students believe holes in the ozone layer allow more solar radiation to pass through the atmosphere leading to an enhanced greenhouse effect. Ozone is a gas that occurs both in the Earth's upper atmosphere and at ground level. Ozone can be "good" or "bad" for people's health and for the environment, depending on its location in the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is the rise in temperature that the Earth experiences because certain gases in the atmosphere (water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, for example) trap energy from the sun.

A good document for discussing ground level ozone vs upper atmospheric ozone is found at and

Another website excellent for the greenhouse effect is and

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Performance Benchmark N.12.B.2
Students know consumption patterns, conservation efforts, and cultural or social practices in countries have varying environmental impacts. E/S

Sample Test Questions

1st Item Specification: Identify the benefits and hazards of the environmental impact of human activities (e.g., consumption, conservation, and cultural and social practices).

Depth of Knowledge Level 1

  1. One concern about human activities and resource consumption patterns is
    1. a lack of information about cultural behaviors that influence conservation efforts.
    2. too many advertisements inform the public about conserving water.
    3. local governments have concerns other than being worried about resources.
    4. parents and grandparents provide cars for teenagers who overdrive.
  1. Using public transportation rather than private automobiles to conserve energy is practical because
    1. less people would leave their cars at home.
    2. less pollution would be generated over time.
    3. more pollution would be generated by buses.
    4. people would spend more time on the road.
  1. The environmental impact of the cultural practice of individual automobile ownership is
    1. a practice that fosters conservation.
    2. resource depletion of petroleum.
    3. sustainable energy efforts.
    4. realistic energy practices.
  1. Consumptive practices refer to
    1. use of clothing and reference materials by a society.
    2. use of another country’s resources including satellites.
    3. cost of resources among various societal groups.
    4. how much and what types of resources are used by a society.
  1. Which of the following fosters voluntary conservation of resources?
    1. Laws
    2. Taxes
    3. Education
    4. Deficits
  1. Which of the following practices has a NEGATIVE environmental impact?
    1. Using solar screens
    2. Having grass lawns
    3. Voluntary recycling
    4. Using water-efficient toilets
  1. Excessive consumptive practices that impact the environment include all of the following EXCEPT
    1. energy.
    2. water.
    3. food.
    4. recycling.

Depth of Knowledge Level 2

  1. Which of the following would be considered a non-sustainable environmental practice?
    1. Using solar energy
    2. Burning fossil fuels
    3. Recycling glass
    4. Consuming vegetables
  1. The ecological resource consumption practices of the average citizen of the United States
    1. is less than all other parts of the world.
    2. is balanced by recycling plastic items.
    3. is greater than most countries in the world.
    4. contributes to sustainable living practices.                       
  1. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) use 1/3 the electricity of a standard incandescent light bulb. Which of the following would be true?
    1. Incandescent light bulbs burn cooler than CFLs.
    2. CFLs use less energy over their lifetime than standard bulbs.
    3. Incandescent light bulbs last longer than CFLs.
    4. CFLs release CO2 contributing to global climate change.
  1. The average human consumes 2000 kcal of food per day.  If one compact fluorescent light bulb saves 570 kilowatt hour over its lifetime, how many days of food would that provide for the average human? (hint: 1.0 kwatt hour is equivalent to approximately 900 kcal.)
    1. 5 day.
    2. 1 day.
    3. 20 days.
    4. 256 days.
  1. Compared to a hunter/gatherer society, energy consumption in an industrial society is
    1. less because industrial societies are more efficient.
    2. less because industrial societies have different diets.
    3. more because industrial societies have more technology.
    4. more because industrial societies tend to be vegetarian
  1. Archeologists have evidence that the southwest region of the United States had a 40 year drought about a thousand years ago.  Most native people moved away from the area. What is the most likely reason why these people abandoned their communities?
    1. The air temperatures grew to be too hot.
    2. Large mammals migrated into the area.
    3. The soil characteristics changed causing drought.
    4. The resources they needed for survival changed.
  1. There is currently enough food produced on Earth to feed the global population, but people still do not have enough food. What is the most likely reason for this?
    1. Some people consume more food than others do and do not want to share.
    2. Different communities do not like unusual foods such as peppers.
    3. The world population is low and the problem is exaggerated.
    4. Roads and communication are inadequate to remote populations.

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Performance Benchmark N.12.B.2
Students know consumption patterns, conservation efforts, and cultural or social practices in countries have varying environmental impacts. E/S

Answers to Sample Test Questions

  1. A, DOK Level 1
  2. B, DOK Level 1
  3. B, DOK Level 1
  4. D, DOK Level 1
  5. C, DOK Level 1
  6. B, DOK Level 1
  7. D, DOK Level 1
  8. B, DOK Level 2
  9. C, DOK Level 2
  10. B, DOK Level 2
  11. D, DOK Level 2
  12. C, DOK Level 2
  13. D, DOK Level 2
  14. D, DOK Level 2

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Performance Benchmark N.12.B.2
Students know consumption patterns, conservation efforts, and cultural or social practices in countries have varying environmental impacts. E/S

Intervention Strategies and Resources

The following list of intervention strategies and resources will facilitate student understanding of this benchmark.

1. High School Center of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Students often stumble as they try to access competent information about resources. An excellent EPA resource for high school students separates the major resources and discusses each. Each portal contains other links to websites to guide students in their understandings about consumptive patterns in relationship to the resource studied. Specific areas covered include air, conservation, and ecosystems, health and safety, waste and recycling, water and your neighborhood.

To access this resource go to


2. Ecological Footprint Quiz by the Earth Day Network

Ever wondered how much "nature" your lifestyle requires? You're about to find out. This Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard. After answering 15 questions you'll be able to compare your Ecological Footprint to what other people use and to what is available on this planet.

To access this quiz, go to


3. Trophic Ecology of Humans by the National Health Museum’s Activities Exchange.

Humans eat. This simple statement hides many complexities. When viewed in an ecological context, eating is the way energy and material entering individual organisms. Consideration of how that energy is related to organisms is called trophic ecology. Energy moves from its source in the sun through the photosynthetic organisms that make energy available to living things (producers) and then through organisms that eat other organisms including the photosynthetic ones (consumers). At each step much energy is lost, and it is of great importance to study these energy relationships in order to understand the functioning of communities and ecosystems.

To access the activities exchange and locate this lesson visit


4. Carbon Counter from the Climate Trust is a web site that allows you to calculate how much carbon dioxide you emit into the atmosphere. It empowers individuals to become CO2 free by donating to real projects and programs that reduce carbon dioxide in the environment.

To access this resource go to


5. Leaders of Waste Reduction (LOWR)

A free waste prevention and recycling resource aimed at informing the consumptive, purchasing, and disposal choices of Washoe County School District students in grades 3 - 10. As part of this effort, Environmental Leadership has compiled information aimed at providing teachers and students with current and comprehensive educational resources on waste reduction.

To access this resource go to


6. Why Native Landscaping? From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

After European settlement, people planted gardens with plants brought from their home country. They were tiny, comfortable garden plots set in a huge wilderness. Today, however, the reverse is true. Agricultural and garden plants introduced from all over the world dominate the landscape, while native plants are managed in small preserves. In recent years, natural landscaping - using native plants and plant communities in landscaping - has become more common.

To access this resource go to


7. Clark County Regional Flood Control District Resources

Here you will find information about flood events around Clark County and the work that the District performs to improve the protection of life and property for existing residents, future residents, and visitors from the impacts of flooding.

To access this resource go to


8. H2O University from the Southern Nevada Water Authority

In Southern Nevada, residential water customers use 65 percent of the water supply. Residents use 75 to 90 percent of their water outdoors. And, of the water Southern Nevadans use outdoors, they waste one third. In 2002, we wasted 30 billion gallons of water. That's enough water to provide 1.6 million people with drinking water for the next 50 years. It's also enough water to wash 1.2 billion loads of laundry.

To access this resource go to

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