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.