Global Climate Change Report

Writing from England, I’ve noticed great coverage in the newspapers regarding the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Report on Global Climate Change. The first phase of the report will be released on Friday in Paris. Pre-publication reports indicate that CO2 emissions have caused global warming, and the indicators such as as the reduction in glacial ice (continental and alpine), rise in sea level, global temperature increase, changes in the patterns of migratory birds and other animal species have been documented. The Intergovernmental Panel Report will provide important data and analysis that teachers could use to involve students in this massive scientific investigation.

An interesting question to raise with students is “Is global warming a hoax.” The report should provide ample data to help answer the question.

Teaching About Climate Change

There was an article today in the New York Times New Warnings on Climate Change by Andrew Revkin. Revkin is a science reporter for the NY Times, and author of book on climate change entitled The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World. The book is for 6th graders and up, but I recommend it to adults, and particular teachers as a great teaching tool. Also if you go to this link you can click on Interactive Feature: On Top of the World, and be taken to the Pole by Revkin to see how scientists are monitoring the Arctic. It’s an interesting slide show, and discussion by Revkin about the research going on at the top of the world.

Revkin’s article was prompted by a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is close to issuing it report, Climate Change 2007. The report states that recent global warming has been largely driven by the build up of CO2. Prior to the Industrials revolution, CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere were 280 parts per million. Present levels of CO2 are 380 parts per million, and scientists on the Panel predict that the levels could rise to 450 – 500 parts per million.

The current debate in newspapers, media outlets, and talk shows underscores the importance of the topic of climate change. Climate change is not simply a scientific concept, it has become a political and social issue that has prompted people to “take sides” on global warming. Teaching about this issue would make a very important contribution to students’ understanding of science, as well a science-related social issue. Climate change is a powerful concept, and as seen in the graphic below will involve students in several realms of investigation.

The National Science Education Standards (NSES) identifies at least two areas within the science curriculum where a science-related social issue on climate change and global warming are supported.

In the NSES the only reference to global climate was in the 9-12 Earth and Space Science standards under the section on Energy in the Earth System. The concept stated is:

Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth’s surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth’s rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.

However in the section on Science in Personal and Social Perspectives 9-12, the Environmental Quality Standard included three concepts that would help organize teaching about Global Climate. They are:

1. Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Those processes include maintenance of the quality of the atmosphere, generation of soils, control of the hydrologic cycle, disposal of wastes, and recycling of nutrients. Humans are changing many of these basic processes, and the changes may be detrimental to humans.

2. Materials from human societies affect both physical and chemical cycles of the earth.

3. Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth, resource use, population distribution, over-consumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and different ways humans view the earth.

These three concepts provide the organizing concepts for the development of teaching materials that will help inform students of Global Climate Change. The concepts could be used to develop teaching plans in a seminar fashion in which students engage in a debate on the effects of human societies on global climate change. Students would be encouraged to study websites and articles by scientists, government officials, and pundits (who typically see climate change, and in particular global warming as a hoax). Students could be organized into teams that take pro or con sides on the issue. This form of inquiry enables students to see an issue through different sets of eyes and perspectives. The teacher should try and provide as a wide a range of Internet sites, readable research articles, newspaper articles (online), and editorials. Students might also try and arrange interviews with scientists, government officials, and pundits. Students would have a range of impacts to look at as they investigate global climate change as seen in the graphic below.

There is a plethora of resources on global climate change. A search on Google will bring you over 48 million!

In addition to these resources, I recommend Revkin’s book, The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World, and The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery.

NASA’s Earth-Sensing Satellites Getting Old

Satellites orbiting the earth have provided Earth Scientists will information that is used to study many parameters important to scientific investigation of Planet Earth. Paramters such as sea level, motions of the earth, glacial ice, and others are measured. In a report, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond issued by the National Research Council, it was indicated that many of the satellites being used to monitor the Earth are getting old, and need to be replaced over the next decade. You can go to the previous link, and read the report. Looking at the Table of Contents of the report will give you an idea of the breadth of studies that done by making use of satellites.

There was a very good summary of the issue reported in the New York Times that you might want to read: Scientists Warn of Diminished Earth Studies From Space.

Risk Assessment Plan Judged “Flawed” by National Research Council

The Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget prepared a plan to change the rules determining whether chemicals and other products pose risks to human health. The plan was reviewed by The National Research Council, and they concluded that the report was seriously flawed, should be thrown out, and the OMB should start all over!

You can read the full report (I recommend skimming it as it is more than 300 pages long) from the NRC website, which is entitled Scientific Review of the Proposed Risk Assessment Bulletin from the Office of Management and Budget.

This is another example of the dismal record that this present administration has chaulked up over the past six years. Ready for a change?

Stem Cell Bill Passes House

Today the US House of Representatives passed another stem cell bill by a vote of 253 to 174. The bill would authorize federal support for research using stem cells derived from excess embryos that fertility clinics would otherwise discard. President Bush vetoed the bill the last time it came to his desk, and he has promised that he would veto it again.

Bush has used a very weak “ethical” argument to support his position on the bill, yet several states, house representatives and senators were re-elected on a stem cell position. The scientific community supports the research, yet the Bush administration looks the other way again on a scientific issue.

Clearly stem cell research is one of the biological issues that has created a great deal of controversy. However, of the key biological issues, the evidence from reputable polls is that the public supports federal support for research using stem cells. The public sees through the hype of the right to the long term benefits of research. Medical researchers widely submit that stem cell research has the potential to dramatically alter approaches to understanding and treating diseases, and to alleviate suffering. There is much literature on the ethics involved in using stem cells and pros and cons of the research. Here are a few places to turn:

Stem Cell Controversy
More See Benefits of Stem Cell Research
National Institutes of Health Stem Cell Information Page