Lesson 2: Carbon Footprints
Terms and Vocabulary:
CARBON FOOTPRINT-The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a person, household, event, or organization.
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS-Gases such as CO2 and methane discharged into the air from sources such as internal combustion engines and livestock.
GLOBAL WARMING: An increase in the Earth's average air and ocean temperatures due to heat from the sun being trapped by excess greenhouse gasses accumulating in the Earth's atmosphere.
Understand that individual choices contribute to climate change. Students will learn the role that carbon-containing greenhouse gases play in the changing climate and calculate their own carbon footprints.
1. Ask students to use their writing journals to try to tally all the energy they use in a day, starting with the moment they wake up. Encourage students to consider every detail, including the electricity that powers their alarm clocks and lights; the heat used to warm their showers; the energy used to manufacture their clothes and grow and prepare their breakfasts; the gas that fuels the school bus, etc. Ask: How much energy do you think you consume each day, compared to people in other parts of the world?
2. Explain: Carbon dioxide and methane are the greenhouse gases most responsible for global climate change. Many natural processes release carbon-containing gases. But by burning fossil fuels for energy, humans are adding much more of these gases to the atmosphere than the planet can absorb. Each time we use energy-by growing and cooking food, using electronics, heating and lighting our homes, making and recycling products, traveling by car, etc.-we add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. As a result, our planet's temperature is rising, affecting the health and well-being of many plants and animals, including humans.
3. Elaborate: Worldwide, the average two-person household has a carbon footprint of about 11 tons of carbon every year. Compare that to the United States where the average household emits about 59 tons of carbon dioxide each year. This is six times higher than the average emissions for the remainder of the world. Discuss how countries with fast-growing economies such as China and India are increasing their use of fossil fuels as they grow. Ask: Does this make it even more important to countries like the United States to reduce their carbon footprints?
Think and Discuss:
4. Ask students to calculate their household's carbon footprint by visiting the online carbon calculator at http://www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator/index.htm.
5. Distribute the "Carbon Footprints" student worksheet. Discuss ways that students, families, and schools can reduce their carbon footprints. Make sure to discuss home energy usage, transportation, food production, recycling, and waste.
6. Have students work in teams to make a plan to reduce their carbon footprints. Encourage student teams to brainstorm big ideas and innovative ways to take action and reduce the carbon footprints of your school, your community, and your town or city.
7. Copy and distribute the "Energy Hide and Seek" family worksheet, "The Bag Challenge" family worksheet, and the "Green Humor" family worksheet. Encourage students to complete these activity pages as homework assignments and show their family what they have discovered.