Blog Action Day.Understanding 350 -Climate change – what can we do?
As educators, trainers and facilitators we have an obligation to provide young people with the skills not only to survive well in the world but to have the choice to make an active contribution to reduce the heavy impact we are making on the health of the planet.
Awareness is not enough -so teaching young people the ‘facts’ may not be enough, they also need to develop the skills of :
- self awareness leading to personal action, initially on behalf of self
- confidence in expressing own views
- being assertive without being aggressive
- assessing media reporting – distinguishing fact from bias
- problem solving
- empathy and understanding a range of perspectives on the same issue
- taking action on behalf of others
Of course, this does not happen in one classroom but approaches to learning have to be community wide so that adults affirm and support young people’s actions.
There is plenty of information around but just to reiterate :
350 parts per million is what many scientists, climate experts, and progressive national governments are now saying is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere.
Accelerating arctic warming and other early climate impacts have led scientists to conclude that we are already above the safe zone at our current 390ppm, and that unless we are able to rapidly return to 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.
and a little bit more about global warming:
Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Global Warming
There are a number of widely held misconceptions about climate change, and unfortunately, these are reflected in some of the educational materials available on the web. It is therefore crucial for teachers to educate themselves and their students with accurate information and be careful not to reinforce common but incorrect notions.
#1 Global warming is caused primarily by carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and gas.
Certain gases that trap heat are building up in Earth’s atmosphere. The primary culprit is carbon dioxide, released from burning coal, oil and natural gas in power plants, cars, factories, etc. (and to a lesser extent when forests are cleared). The second is methane, released from rice paddies, both ends of cows, rotting garbage in landfills, mining operations, and gas pipelines. Third are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and similar chemicals, which are also implicated in the separate problem of ozone depletion (see #5 below). Nitrous oxide (from fertilizers and other chemicals) is fourth.
#2 Earth’s average temperature has risen about 1 degree F in the past 100 years and is projected to rise another 3 to 10 degrees F in the next 100 years.
While Earth’s climate has changed naturally throughout time, the current rate of change due to human activity is unprecedented during at least the last 10,000 years. The projected range of temperature rise is wide because it includes a variety of possible future conditions, such as whether or not we control greenhouse gas emissions and different ways the climate system might respond. Temperatures over the US are expected to rise more than over the globe as a whole because land areas closer to the poles are projected to warm faster than those nearer the equator.
#3 There is scientific consensus that global warming is real, is caused by human activities, and presents serious challenges.
Scientists working on this issue report that the observed global warming cannot be explained by natural variations such as changes in the sun’s output or volcanic eruptions. The most authoritative source of information is the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which draws upon the collective wisdom of many hundreds of scientists from around the world. The IPCC projects global temperature increases of 3 to 10 degrees F in the next 100 years and says that human activity is the cause of most of the observed and projected warming.
#4 There’s a difference between weather and climate.
Weather refers to the conditions at one particular time and place, and can change from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season. Climate, on the other hand, refers to the long-term average pattern of weather in a place. Long-term data are needed to determine changes in climate, and such data indicate that Earth’s climate has been warming at a rapid rate since the start of intensive use of coal and oil in the late 1800s.
#5 The ozone hole does not cause global warming.
Ozone depletion is a different problem, caused mainly by CFCs (like Freon) once used in refrigerators and air conditioners. In the past, CFCs were also used in aerosol spray cans, but that use was banned in the US in 1978. CFCs deplete the stratospheric ozone layer that protects life on Earth from excess ultraviolet light that can cause skin cancer and cataracts in humans and other damage to plants and animals. An international agreement has phased out most uses of CFCs but the ozone layer is only just beginning to recover, partly because these chemicals remain in the atmosphere for a long time. (Although ozone depletion is not the cause of global warming, there are a number of connections between the two. For example, many ozone-depleting compounds are also greenhouse gases. Some of the compounds now replacing CFCs in order to protect ozone are also greenhouse gases. And ozone itself is a greenhouse gas. In addition, while greenhouse gas build-up causes temperatures close to Earth’s surface to rise, it cause temperatures higher up, in the stratosphere, to fall. This stratospheric cooling speeds ozone depletion, delaying the recovery of the ozone hole.)
#6 Global warming will have significant impacts on people and nature.
As temperatures continue to rise, precipitation is projected to come more frequently in the form of heavy downpours. We can probably expect more extreme wet and dry conditions. In the western US, where snowpack provides free storage of most of the water supply, reduced snowpack will make less water available in summer. Coastal areas will become more vulnerable to storm surges as sea level rises. Plant and animal species will migrate or disappear in response to changes in climate; New England may lose its lobsters and maple trees as they move north into Canada. Natural ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangrove swamps, arctic tundra, and alpine meadows are especially vulnerable and may disappear entirely in some areas. While global warming will have impacts on natural and human systems all around the world, the largest impacts will be on many natural ecosystems and on people who live in developing countries and have few resources and little ability to adapt. On the positive side, warmer winters will reduce cold-related stresses and growing seasons will lengthen. And there will be tradeoffs in some areas, such as less skiing but more hiking; and fewer killing frosts but more bugs.
#7 Sea level has already risen due to warming and is projected to rise much more.
Many people are under the mistaken impression that only if the polar ice caps melt will sea level rise. In fact, average sea level around the world has already risen 4 to 8 inches in the past 100 years due to global warming and is expected to rise another 4 to 35 inches (with a best guess of around 19 inches) by 2100. The primary reason for this rise is that water expands as it warms. The second reason is that glaciers all over the world are melting, and when land-based ice melts, the water runs to the sea and increases its level. Thousands of small islands are threatened by the projected sea-level rise for the 21st century, as are low-lying coastal areas such as southern Florida. Of course, if there is any significant melting of the polar ice sheets, the additional rise in sea level would be enormous (measured in feet not inches). This is projected to occur on a time scale of millennia rather than centuries.
#8 Saving energy and developing alternative energy sources would help.
Each of us can reduce our contribution to global warming by using less greenhouse-gas-producing energy: driving less, choosing fuel efficient cars and appliances (like refrigerators and water heaters), and using solar energy where feasible for water and space heat. We can encourage our political and business leaders to institute policies that will save energy and develop alternative energy sources that do not release carbon dioxide. We can preserve existing forests and plant new ones. But even if we take aggressive action now, we cannot completely prevent climate change because once carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, it remains there for about a century, and the climate system takes a long time to respond to changes. But our actions now and in the coming decades will have enormous implications for future generations.
#9 An international agreement known as the Kyoto Protocol has been negotiated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the US is not participating in it.
Because of its high energy consumption, the US has long emitted more carbon dioxide than any other country. Because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for about 120 years, it accumulates, becomes equally distributed around the world, and has global effects. Thus, while using large amounts of energy to achieve economic growth, the US and other wealthy nations have unintentionally burdened the rest of the world with a long-term problem. And many negative impacts of climate change are likely to be more severe for poorer countries that lack the resources to adapt.
#10 Protecting the world’s climate by stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will require enormous reductions in current emissions.
Even if ratified, the Kyoto Protocol in its present form is only a start and would not be nearly enough to stabilize climate. It is estimated that greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced to less than one third of current levels to stabilize atmospheric concentrations. This would require a major transformation of the energy sector. A mix of new and existing energy technologies will be needed to achieve this, including large increases in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Researchers are also developing technology to capture and bury carbon dioxide thousands of feet underground. Major increases in public and private research and development are needed to make the necessary technologies available as rapidly and economically as possible.
But the most significant reason for the controversy is that some special interests have mounted an active campaign to raise doubts and create confusion about this issue. For legitimate and other reasons, a very small number of scientists raise questions about whether warming has or will occur. When they do, special interests work hard to amplify and distribute the views of these “contrarians” in order to create confusion among the press, policymakers and public and give the impression that there is still a major scientific debate about the reality and causes of climate change. (Note: not all fossil fuel companies are implicated in this disinformation campaign. Some, in fact, have acknowledged the scientific realities and are taking steps to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions [see a list of such companies at the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change]).
EPA GLOBAL WARMING SITE
You can get up to speed on climate change issues quickly and efficiently at this site from the US Environmental Protection Agency. “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) is a good place to begin. Another good section, “In the News,” offers brief summaries of the latest developments in climate science and policy and provides links for further details. “Publications” provides links to authoritative reports from the top sources. “Outreach” offers a variety of very useful fact sheets (basic to advanced) to get you and your students started, as well as brochures that deal with particular aspects of the subject, such as “Climate Change and Birds” and “Climate Change and Public Lands.” One fact sheet, “Straight Talk on Global Warming,” deals with some of the most common misunderstandings and misrepresentations about the issue.
The “Outreach” section also includes publications that deal with policies and technological strategies for reducing human-induced climate change. Links to online tools are provided for calculating emissions reductions from various strategies. These tools can easily form the basis of classroom activities such as calculating carbon dioxide emissions reductions from walking to school instead of being driven, thus helping students relate personally to this global scale issue. The glossary is quite extensive and fairly technical and is a great resource for teachers and more advanced high school students.
A much simpler and far less comprehensive glossary for younger students can be found at EPA’s Global Warming Kids Page. Elementary and Middle School students will find this page an accessible place to begin. It includes simple explanations of the issues and characterizes scientists as “climate detectives” searching for clues in ice cores, tree rings and satellite data. It also provides links and games to appeal to younger students.
UN CLIMATE INFORMATION KIT
This is an excellent resource for information on climate change from the United Nations, World Meteorological Organization, and five other international agencies. The 63-page guide (downloads in pdf) is clearly written in plain English, and offers comprehensive information on the science of global climate change, potential impacts, adaptation and mitigation strategies, and policies. This policy emphasis – what the world is doing about climate change – sets this material apart. Data charts, including greenhouse gas emissions and their sources, are another useful feature. This thorough guide was updated in the summer of 2001 with information from the latest reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading authority on the subject. Note: International units are used in this guide, so take this opportunity to familiarize your students with converting degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit and metric measurements to English ones (e.g., meters to feet).
PEW CENTER ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing credible information and innovative solutions to addressing climate change. Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and other sources, the Center produces reports by leading experts on climate change science, economics, policies, and solutions. It has also enlisted dozens of major companies in an effort to use the power of the marketplace to address climate change. The website offers an excellent set of resources that are useful for teachers and more advanced students, from the full text of the Center’s reports, to current articles and editorials, to lists of sites for more information.
UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS (UCS) CURRICULUM GUIDE
The UCS has produced a set of teaching materials designed to accompany “Global Warming: Early Warning Signs”- a science-based world map depicting local and regional consequences of global climate change. The map can be found at http://www.climatehotmap.org/. While UCS and the other organizations that produced the map are advocacy groups that call for policy actions on climate change, the lesson plans in the UCS Curriculum Guide are scientifically accurate, pedagogically sound, and do not reflect a bias. Rather, they encourage students to collect and analyze data and draw their own conclusions.
The 30-page Curriculum Guide is geared towards grades 9-12, but individual exercises are adaptable to other grade levels. Each activity is structured to include an initial “Engagement” exercise, one or more steps of a student “Exploration” project, and ideas for extended study. The activities align with National Learning Standards for Science, Geography, Social Studies, Language Arts, Environmental Education, and Technology, and the specific standards addressed by each activity are identified.
The web resources suggested for teacher and student use are authoritative and first rate.
Four activities are presented:
Climate Change in My City: Students use an historical climate index to analyze climate change at local, regional, and global scales.
Oral History Project: Students interview older residents in the community about climate changes during their lifetime and compare the results to a climate change index that is based on historical temperature measurements.
Climate Change and Disease: Students research the relationship between hosts, parasites, and vectors for common vector-borne diseases and evaluate how climate change could affect the spread of disease.
Climate Change and Ecosystems: Students research the interdependencies among plants and animals in an ecosystem and explore how climate change might affect those interdependencies and the ecosystem as a whole.
Some information from the Global Environmental Facility GEF:
14 September 2009 | A report from the Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group released today indicates that climate risks could cost nations up to 19% of their GDP by 2030, with developing countries most vulnerable. The report concludes, however, that cost effective adaptation measures already exist that can prevent between 40 and 68 percent of the expected economic loss with even higher levels of prevention possible in highly target geographies.
GEF projects in climate change help developing countries and economies in transition to contribute to the overall objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) “to achieve […] stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner” (from the text of the UNFCCC, Art.2).
What Can I Do About It?
After learning about climate change, some students may want to know what they as individuals can do about it. This site from Environmental Defense offers 20 simple steps to reduce an individual’s contribution to global warming and gives the approximate carbon dioxide reduction attained by taking each step. While Environmental Defense is an advocacy group that supports strong measures to mitigate climate change, the suggested actions are simply those that are widely recommended to reduce energy use and its environmental impacts.
Climate change is a human issue. It isn’t just about saving the planet and communities around the world face serious threats from the climate crisis. The TckTckTck campaign has created a great tool for learning the stories behind the human face of climate change. It’s called the Climate Orb and it is an animated interactive tool housing first-hand stories searchable by country, keyword and timeframe. Explore the Climate Orb.
Finally, don’t forget that people all around the world are getting involved and taking action. Next week, on October 24, 350.org is organizing the International Day of Climate Action. You can visit their site and see what people all around the world are planning to do next week to demonstrate their commitment to stopping climate change.