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Climate Status Investigations
Department of Energy
National Energy Technology Laboratory
Curriculum Grid
Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine | Day ten
What's Driving Our Community? Day 5:

Potential Effects (Language Arts)
What's Driving Our Community (Science)

What's Driving Our Community? (Math)
Economics Of Emission Trading (Social Studies)
Links on this page: MPG standards |
Printable version of What's Driving Our Community Lessons 

National Education Standards Met:


Math discipline


Goal: Students will analyze the effects of what the people in their community are driving in order to make recommendations.

Objectives: Students will

  • Calculate the CO2 emission index for each site
  • Analyze data and graph their findings
  • Make recommendations for a healthier atmosphere

Materials (For a class of 30):

  • Fuel economy guide or almanac of standard vehicle types or automotive magazines
  • city maps
  • a variety of colored dots
  • backpack to carry equipment
  • logbook


  • Street Atlas Software
  • GPS
  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • PowerPoint software
  • GIS software with data sets of city

Time Required: 45 minute period

Standards Met: S2, M1, M2, M3, M6, M14


  • All groups are to return to school for the second half of the day to analyze the data. This analysis should include:
    A. Entering data in the GIS data set, looking for traffic patterns throughout the city.  If GIS is not available, placing colored dots on a city map, with each color representing a designated number of vehicles, will work as well.  Students will have to determine a key for color versus number of vehicles.

    B. Graphing the number of vehicles that passed their site in each of the different types of categories.  A bar graph works well for this comparison.

    C. Calculating the CO
    2 emission index for each of the sites. This is accomplished by multiplying the average mpg for each vehicle type by the number of vehicles of that type that passed the site in the 1-hour interval. To complete the calculation, take the totals from each of the categories, add them together, and divide by 5 (if five categories were created).  This is the CO2 emission/site index. This index is only a comparative number, it does not represent any specific amount of CO2 emitted by the vehicles. For a more scientifically accurate relationship, have the students do research on specific vehicle types and the CO2 emissions they produce and repeat the above calculations.

    D. Examination of the photographs. If a digital camera is used, include a time index within the picture to identify possible flow patterns within certain time intervals.
  • Each group is to make a brief presentation showing the class what they have discovered from their research.

Additional Helpful Information regarding MPG standards:
The United States has laws governing the miles per gallon that passenger cars and light trucks must achieve.  These laws are called Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. CAFE standards are for new cars only, so many of the cars on our streets don't even come close to the standards! Each automaker must attain a certain standard as an average across all of their vehicles.  In essence, many automakers might have models that achieve only 17 or 18 MPG, but they also have automobiles that achieve 30 or 35 MPG.  When averaged together, the number must be at least 27.5 MPG for passenger vehicles, and 20.7 MPG for light trucks (including pickups, minivans, and SUV's). Below is a short definition of CAFE standards:

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards - A program initiated by the EPA, sets standards for vehicle fuel efficiency measured by miles traveled per gallon of burned fuel. The current CAFE standards require passenger automobiles to travel at least 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) of fuel burned and 20.7 mpg for light-duty trucks. The passenger car standard of 27.5 mpg has been the standard since 1990. The light trucks standard of 20.7 mpg has been the standard since 1996. The standards were enacted in an effort to reduce U.S. energy consumption and dependence on foreign oil. Supporters of the program also hoped it would improve air quality.


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