The ability to track flows of energy in complex and dissipative contexts is essential to understand many aspects of sustainable energy and climate change. Traditional physics instruction largely fails to develop that ability. This work argues that one plausible contributor to this deficiency could be an overemphasis on cases that lend themselves to quantitative calculation. Drawing on examples and data from a small sample of college physics students in a class on sustainable energy, it proposes that practice in semiquantitative energy tracking, using suitable visual and/or manipulable representations, can help develop students' skills in using energy reasoning in real-world, dissipative contexts.

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