World Without Oil and $5 gas

Back in February people were hypothetically talking about $4 a gallon gasoline. Now with my corner gas station at $4.39, there is talk about $5.00 gas by the end of July. Crazy stuff. Who knows when it will all return to normal, or at least to the new normal – you know $3.75 or so.

Well, people have been talking about peak oil (when production of oil peaks and then starts to decline) for years. I had a friend in grad school who moved to Portland, Oregon in part because that city is one of the few in the United States that is preparing for an oil shortage. And a year ago a grant funded by PBS (and others) allowed a group of people to create an alternative reality game called World Without Oil. Essentially, each day in May 2007 represented a week in a World Without Oil. Almost 2000 people from around the world posted blogs, podcasts, and videos in response to the fictional crisis. The turnout was amazing and links to all of the posts are still housed on the WWO web site. Earlier in the year it won the award for Activism at the South by Southwest Conference. It was also nominate for several other awards.

I was lucky enough to be hired to help develop a series of lesson plans that incorporated the main themes of the game. Working closely with one of the main WWO game designers (Ken Uklund), we produced ten modular lessons that teachers can use to recreate the game in their classrooms. We hope that teachers across multiple disciplines will incorporate these lessons and the bigger ideas they represent regarding the future of our nation and the world.

I was able to do about five days worth of the lessons (or at least the main concepts) with my college prep world history students at the end of the school year – literally it was the last days before the final exam. These two classes of 15-16 year-olds, really had no idea that how deeply we rely upon oil and how many products are actually derived from oil itself or energy produced by oil. These lessons gave them some greater insight. A number of my students did blogs which can be found on my WWO-specific web site. Some of the students really bought in to the game and produced some great posts. I hope to have a little more time next year to do it.

It seems like we as teachers need at least give some awareness to the issues immediately facing our students. My awareness to the issue of energy consumption has certainly broadened. Here is an article the was recently published at Education Week in the Digital Directions section. I am quoted! So read it.

7 thoughts on “World Without Oil and $5 gas”

  1. Dan –

    Great lessons! I can’t agree with you more that students should be aware of issues like oil dependency and the issue of peak oil. I make it a point to integrate a significant component into my world history classes about humans and their relationship to natural resources. In many ways, human society has always been shaped and influenced by the amount of natural resources available. The situation with oil is not exactly new. Eighteenth century England and China both had to deal with shortages of wood. The Chinese focused on a more a labor intensive economy, while the British focused on developing coal as a new resource.
    Two books that deal with these issues and are great for students are Alfred Crosby’s “Children of the Sun” and Robert Marks’ “The Origins of the Modern World.” They do an excellent job of getting students to think about the AP World theme “Interaction between humans and the environment.”

    – Bram


  2. I think it’s a great idea to have your students participate in any way to help them understand the energy shortages. They are the ones who will be experiencing the consequences of the problems we’re facing today. By having them create ideas and think about the topic they become aware of the problem and when they hear something on the news they’ll recognize it and connect it with class.


  3. I’m in Alaska where oil provides 85% of our state budget… so the WWO video peaked my interest. Very compelling topic.

    I’ll be sharing the video and your plans on my site.

    Nice work,



  4. What a great way to bring your students into current events! Most young people have no idea why the gas prices do or do not go up and the different things that affect it. The way to bring about a change is first to bring awareness and you are doing that with your classes. World history classes are important because history never stops and this is such a great way to show that to them. We are in the middle of historical times RIGHT NOW and you are showing them that. I am going to try to do the same with my students.


  5. I remember 25 years ago I had a gradeschool teacher talking about the speed at which we were consuming oil, and the dangerous state it put us in. Thank you for the great article!


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