Global Warming, Local Solutions

Use this lesson as an introduction to Challenge 4: Climate in the Lexus Environmental Challenge.

Goals: Students will conduct a short survey to discover what their community knows about global warming and what steps they are willing to take to reduce the production of greenhouse gases.

Time Required: 40 minutes, plus polling time

Materials: "Global Warming, Local Solutions" student reproducible, pen/paper, research and polling time, supplemental information about climate change (below)

Global Warming, Local Solutions (PDF)

Before Class Begins

Before students arrive, review the supplemental information about climate change (below), including the environmental facts, conservation ideas, and real-world example of the impact of global warming.

Background Discussion

Ask: What is global warming? (The heating up of the earth due to human-created pollutants like carbon dioxide. This is also called the greenhouse effect.)

2. Discuss the science of global warming with students. Explain that the earth's atmosphere is designed to allow filtered sunlight in and out. Simultaneously, the atmosphere allows the additional heat we generate to escape into space. This ebb and flow keeps the earth's climate consistent. However, the atmosphere does not allow pollutants like carbon dioxide to filter into space. Today, these trapped pollutants have created an extra blanket of material in our atmosphere. With less heat filtering into space, the planet has been gradually growing hotter.

3. Explain that the earth's natural climate cycle includes periods of warmer and colder weather. However during the past 50 years, the average global temperature has risen faster than ever before. Discuss how this warming trend is already affecting the world:

a. Worst wildfire seasons ever recorded—Colorado, Arizona, and Oregon, 2002
b. Drought and dust storms—Montana, Colorado, and Kansas, 2002
c. Severe flooding—Texas, Montana, and North Dakota, 2002
d. Snow has decreased 60% since 1950, shortening the winter in Oregon and Washington
e. Heat waves led to over 21,500 deaths in Europe and India, 2003
f. Stronger, more destructive hurricanes worldwide
g. The polar ice cap is melting 9 percent per decade

Explain and ask: Scientists have several theories about what they think the long-term effects of global warming will be. Based on your understanding of the greenhouse effect, what do you think will happen? Engage students in a discussion about global warming, including the various points of view of scientists, governments, and individuals. Share with students the following global warming-driven problems that scientists believe may occur in the near future:

a. Water shortages in the western United States
b. Coastal flooding in the eastern United States and the Gulf of Mexico
c. More severe hurricanes due to warmer ocean temperatures
d. Diseases carried by water-thriving mosquitoes
e. Extinction of animals that live in habitats such as coral reefs and alpine meadows

5. Ask: Carbon dioxide–filtering plants and trees cannot keep up with the increased carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. Where do you think this extra carbon dioxide has come from? (Primarily from power plants and automobiles, but many household items also produce carbon dioxide.) Explain that coal-burning power plants are the #1 producer of carbon dioxide pollution in the United States (2.5 billion tons each year). Automobiles produce 1.5 billion tons each year and are the second largest producer of carbon dioxide.

6. Engage students in a discussion about what individuals can do to help reduce CO2 emissions, including:

a. drive automobiles that burn less gas and produce fewer CO2 emissions.
b. drive hybrid (gas-electric) automobiles, they generate 1/3 less CO2 emissions than regular gas-powered vehicles.
c. encourage power plants to make use of renewable energy sources such as wind and sun.
d. conserve energy in our daily lives to reduce the demand on power plants.
e. use household items that emit less carbon dioxide such as ENERGY STAR appliances and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (they generate 700 pounds less CO2 than regular bulbs).

Use the real-life example, facts about global warming, and descriptions of global warming activism in the supplemental information (below) to answer any remaining student questions.

Using the Student Reproducible

1. Explain that teams of students will be designing an informal survey to try to discover how their community feels about climate change and what steps they might be willing to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Engage students in a discussion about why climate change generates so much debate among scientists, politicians, and ordinary people.
3. Separate students into three groups and assign each group one of the following topics:

• C02 emissions from power plants
• C02 emissions from automobiles.
• Other greenhouse gases and their influence on global warming

4. Distribute copies of the "Global Warming, Local Solutions" student reproducible to each student. Review it together, including the polling tips.
5. Provide class time for teams to complete the student reproducible and conduct their polls.
6. Discuss the results as a class when the polls are complete. Ask: Did anything surprise you? What have you learned? How can we use this information to help reduce global warming?

Special Project (optional)

Challenge students to take one step to help stop global warming! If everyone joins together to take action, then collectively, we can bring about change. Help student teams create and implement a "Climate of Change" Action Plan for a chance to win more than one million dollars in scholarships and grants!

Here's how it works:

• Choose a topic: Help each student team choose one of the following areas of climate health to focus on:

a. C02 emissions from power plants
b. C02 emissions from automobiles
c. C02 emissions from daily life
d. other greenhouse gases and their influence on global warming

• Research: Provide class time for each team to research its topic.

• Develop a plan: Instruct each team to create an original plan describing what it wants to do to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Each team should go to and complete the online Action Plan to describe its incredible idea!

• Take action: Guide each team as it implements its Action Plan. Remind students to keep track of any successes and challenges throughout the process.

• Submit your entry: Enter online at for a chance to win! Visit for complete entry details and the official rules.

Special Project Example

Review this sample idea with students to help them get started on creating their own amazing Action Plan!

Topic: C02 emissions from daily life

Research: Student teams decide to lower CO2 emissions to help reduce global warming. Teams identify five small, everyday actions that they can take to reduce CO2 emissions, including:

• turn off electronic devices
• cut down on garbage
• keep tires properly inflated
• bike, walk, or carpool
• use compact fluorescent lightbulbs

Action Plan: Teams encourage others in the community to sign a pact signifying their commitment to taking these small actions to help reduce global warming.




What is global warming?

o Global warming is the heating up of the earth's climate due to human-created pollutants, such as carbon dioxide. Global warming is also called the greenhouse effect.

What causes global warming?

o The earth's atmosphere is designed to allow filtered sunlight in and out. Simultaneously, the atmosphere allows the additional heat we generate to escape into space. This ebb and flow keeps the earth's climate consistent. However, the atmosphere does not allow pollutants like carbon dioxide to filter into space. Today, these trapped pollutants have created an extra blanket of material in our atmosphere. With less heat filtering into space, the planet has been gradually growing hotter.
o The United States is the largest producer of CO2 emissions, one of the elements contributing to global warming. We produce 25 percent of the worldwide emissions each year, although we have 5 percent of the world's population.
o The C02 emissions of the United States are more than the combined emissions of China, India, and Japan.

Why is it important to stop global warming?

o As the earth heats up, our climate is slowly changing. This global warming effect has increased the danger of water shortages, coastal flooding, severe hurricanes, waterborne diseases, and animal extinction.
o Several times in the past several years, scientists have noticed that an area of interior Antarctica the size of California has melted. Antarctic ice is the largest freshwater reservoir in the world and scientists are concerned that this melting could affect:
- ocean salinity, causing marine extinctions.
- sea levels, causing worldwide flooding.
- climate, causing more dangerous storms.
- ocean currents causing a sudden cooling of northern Europe and North America.


Share some great ideas with your students about how they can help to reduce global warming. Reinforce the importance of thinking both locally and globally. Local plans are often easier to implement, but global plans can reach a much wider audience.

Burning fossil fuels send pollutants into the air, which contribute to the greenhouse effect. But some easy, everyday actions can dramatically decrease the amount of pollution you send into the atmosphere.

• Electricity is created by burning fossil fuels. Use less electricity and fuel by:
o turning off lights, computers, and televisions when you aren't using them.
o using compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
o taking shorter showers so less water needs to be heated.
o always filling the washing machine and dishwasher before you run them.
o leaving heat or air-conditioning at a consistent temperature and dressing appropriately.
o changing air filters.
o walking, riding a bike, taking your skateboard, or rollerblading.

• Find out how much carbon dioxide you produce every year at Use the tools on this Web site and try to become carbon neutral!


Illustrate the power of global warming by reviewing the challenges that the Chesapeake Bay watershed area faces. The Chesapeake Bay is a huge estuary formed where freshwater rivers and streams and the Atlantic Ocean meet. It is home to a diverse group of fish, shellfish, mammals, and birds that are all currently experiencing the effects of global warming.

• For the last 5,000 years, the level of the Chesapeake Bay has risen 3 feet every 1,000 years. In the last 100 years, levels have risen 1 foot per 100 years. Scientists predict that the Bay's water level will rise 2 to 3 feet during the next 100 years. This rising water is predicted to:
o increase wave erosion.
o upset the freshwater/saltwater balance that wildlife needs to survive.
o submerge islands, such as Poplar Island.
• Human impact: The Chesapeake Bay Watershed provides water to more than 13 million people. Rising sea levels will upset the freshwater/saltwater balance of the water supply.
• Land impact: Poplar Island is losing 13 feet of land each year.
• Animal impact: As the Bay becomes saltier, the fish and shellfish that rely on the Bay for food will be affected:
o The numbers of oysters, shellfish, and crab will decrease dramatically.
o Soft-shell clams will face extinction.
o Plants will die, creating a large hypoxic zone (oxygen-deprived area that can't support life).


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