Some material in this article was adapted from The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Illustrations by Stephen Schudlich.
Global warming affects every living thing on Earth — people, plants, and animals. While scientists are working to better understand how the Earth’s climate will change over time, some effects are already evident: rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and polar ice caps, changes in the distribution of plants and animals, increases in intense weather, and thawing of permafrost. As global warming is caused by an overabundance of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, scientists suggest that it can be slowed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and recapturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.
For average citizens, this means reducing the amount of energy we use in our daily lives. Kids — and teachers — can be instrumental in making a difference and changing the planet’s future. Here are some activities and resources that can help you protect our only home.
A Big Responsibility
As we now know, Earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activities. Challenge your students to consider the issue of our impact on the plants and animals that share our planet by hosting a mock debate. Begin the discussion with these questions posed by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, the coauthors of The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming: “We now know that the way we are living is causing many species to become extinct. Is it okay for humans to interfere with nature so much? What is our responsibility to the polar bear, coral, frog, butterfly, and all the others?”
Have two teams of three students each take one side in the debate — one suggesting that extinction doesn’t matter and the other suggesting that it does — and argue their stance as best they can. Stage the debates for the rest of the class, and invite discussion about what was shared and what students’ conclusions are.
Global Warming in Your Own Backyard
Global warming is more than just an increase in temperature; it’s a change in the climate of our planet, which affects weather patterns, sea levels, and the normal range of plants and animals. Ask students to imagine the impact global warming will have in their own backyard and home. Have them create posters depicting what this scenario might be like, along with a short essay, story, or poem about this new and different world. Here are some possible impacts of global warming to suggest:
- Poison ivy grows larger and becomes itchier as CO2 levels in the air increase.
- Fall leaves turn a dull color and don’t last as long since frosts are delayed.
- Disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes expand their territory as northern regions become warmer.
- Ski seasons shorten as less snow falls.
- Allergies are triggered and asthma worsens as more pollen is produced due to high CO2 levels in the air.
- Pancakes get drier as maple syrup production declines.
- There are fewer outdoor ice rinks as winters get warmer.
- Bark beetle populations explode due to lack of winter frosts, killing trees and making them more vulnerable to forest fires.
Make Your Voice Heard!
Get your students involved in local government by having them write to their elected officials about the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A good first step is to see if your city’s mayor has signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
How many lightbulbs are there in your school? How much energy and how many pounds of CO2 would your school save if all the lightbulbs were changed to energy-efficient compact fluorescents? First, ask the class to discuss and record their estimate for the total number of lightbulbs in your school. Next, divide the students into teams and ask each team to perform a field count of lightbulbs in the area of the school they are assigned. Once all numbers are tabulated, use these formulas to calculate your energy savings:
Energy used by regular lightbulbs per school year in kilowatt hours = (number of lightbulbs) x (average wattage of lightbulbs) x (hours in a school day) x (number of days in a school year) x .00
Energy used by compact fluorescent lightbulbs per school year in kilowatt hours = (energy used by regular lightbulbs per school year in kilowatt hours) x .25
CO2 emissions from regular lightbulbs per school year in pounds = (energy used by regular lightbulbs per school year in kilowatt hours) x 1.535 lbs CO2/kilowatt hour
CO2 emissions from compact fluorescent lightbulbs per school year in pounds = (energy used by compact
fluorescent lightbulbs per school year in kilowatt hours) x 1.535 lbs CO2/kilowatt hour
Next, calculate the cost savings of using compact fluorescents throughout the school.
Here is data for just one of these environmentally friendly bulbs, used over a “life cycle” of about 10,000 hours. (A regular bulb lasts only about 1,000 hours.)
- Initial cost difference: $3
- Life cycle savings: $77
- Net life cycle savings (life cycle savings - initial cost): $74
- Life cycle energy saved: 543 kWh
- Life cycle air pollution reduction: 833 lbs of CO2
- Air pollution reduction equivalence (number of cars removed from the road for a year): 0.07
- Air pollution reduction equivalence (acres of forest): 0.10
- Savings as a percent of retail price: 2116%
Have students share their findings with the school administration, publish them in the school paper, and send e-mails to other classroom teachers. Invite students to think of other ways to spread the word that cleaner technologies not only save the planet, but also save money over the long run.
Join the march!
You and your students can add your voices to stop global warming by participating in this virtual march.
Print or email a letter to your mayor asking him or her to join the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
Spin the emissions wheel
This printable wheel activity is a great way for students to calculate their greenhouse gas emissions and learn how to reduce them at the same time.
Climate change for kids
Learn more about climate change with the help of kid-friendly graphics and explanations. There’s also a list of things kids can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Win a trip to New York!
Solve a local environmental issue with an innovative solution. You could win a trip to New York City, where you’ll share your innovation with a real scientist who will talk to you about bringing your ideas to life.
Lexus is awarding $500,000 in scholarships and grants to middle- and high- school students to help develop and implement innovative environmental programs that impact communities on a grassroots level.
How green are you?
Students can take this fun Scholastic quiz to find out just how green they really are.
Join the green squad
Designed primarily for students in fifth through eighth grade, The Green Squad teaches kids about the relationship between their schools and environmental and health issues.
More Green Links from Scholastic ACT GREEN!
Learn about ways that you can incorporate Climate Change into your classroom activities with lesson plans from the EPA.
Use migration maps, pictures, standards-based lesson plans, activities and more to help your students make local observations and fit them into a global context.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research sponsored by the National Science Foundation outlines strategies to build literacy and science skills by combining online science learning and favorite hands-on classroom activities!
Experts bring a new approach that is based on sound science, straight talk, and a belief that we can work all together to protect the climate.
Experience a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic.