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Climate Change Discussion with Mr. Sharp: Home


Climate Change Discussion Research

In this unit, you will look at the causes and ramifications of climate change. In other words, you will use scientifically founded information to learn about the causes of climate change, and how climate change will affect our world for generations to come. 

1. Project Description

As we have explored topics related to global human rights this year in social studies, we have hoped to develop students’ awareness of the world around them and capabilities for being active citizens who understand their globally interconnected society.  We now turn our attention to a topic of major global significance you have likely heard something about: climate change.  We have two main goals in discussing this topic:

1. Students will develop their understanding of the earth's weather and climate based on scientific evidence.

2. Students will ask questions to clarify the causes and effects of the global rise in temperatures over the last century.

We will have several days of research leading up to a class discussion at the end of next week. Through your research, you will become more aware of this globally significant issue that holds more serious stakes for students your age than it does for any adults alive today.  By the time the older generations are no longer around, your generation will be dealing with whatever situation you have been left, so you have a right and
responsibility to understand the topic.

2. Product: Table Discussion

Our discussion next week will focus on the main question: What are the causes and effects of climate change?  Students will be expected to contribute to the discussion using evidence from research, having prepared using graphic organizers to organize your research findings.  You will be given some specific discussion questions to prepare to discuss at the table. You will get feedback on a rubric that assesses your strengths
and areas of growth in discussion skills.


3. Climate Change: What's Happening?

Weather refers to the local atmospheric conditions in an area, including wind, temperature, precipitation, and air pressure.  Climate is the average weather throughout the historical record for a specific location.  In other words, climate is the expected weather pattern for a place based on historical data, while weather is the report of the actual conditions as they develop.  Climate is what you expect over the long haul, while weather is what you get in the short term.


The earth's weather occurs in the lowest layer of the atmosphere called the troposphere.  There are certain gases in the troposphere that trap the solar energy of sunlight as stored heat, including carbon dioxide, which humans exhale when they breathe.  This stored heat warms the air of the troposphere, and this process of warming the air through this stored heat is called the greenhouse effect.  All life on earth is possible due to the warm conditions created by the greenhouse effect.


Before the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the impact of human beings on the conditions of the troposphere was minimal.  As technology advanced and people became dependent on electricity, factories to make manufactured products, and new forms of transportation such as cars, airplanes, and trains, human activities became more dependent on creating energy through burning fuels called fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels are coal, oil (including gasoline, which is a form of refined oil), and natural gas, and they are found deep in the ground.  They are formed from the decayed organic material left behind by living creatures that were alive millions of years ago.  Ever since the industrial revolution, people have used fossil fuels and the energy they produce to live their normal, everyday lives.


One unexpected outcome of the industrial revolution is that burning more fossil fuels has meant greater emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the troposphere.  Combining this fact with population growth has meant that the past 100 years or so has seen a huge increase in the amount of greenhouse gases in the air around the world.  Not surprisingly, there has been a significant increase in average global temperatures over that same time period.  


According to reports published by the world's foremost experts on climate science, and supported by hundreds of international science organizations and 95% or more of all published expert opinions on the topic, there are three main conclusions about the earth's changing climate:


  1. The earth's temperature has risen over the last century at levels not seen before in human history, and is continuing to rise.
  2. Most of the global warming occurring since the 1950s is caused by human beings emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  3. Climate change is causing widespread impacts on humans and the natural environment.


You can read the most updated report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the group of the world's foremost climate science experts, for yourself.  Here is the report.  


What is the disagreement about climate change about?

There is strong agreement among the world's foremost climate scientists that the above conclusions are correct (95%, according to the IPCC report above).  There is a small but vocal minority of scientists who disagree with some aspect of the three conclusions above, but even those scientific conclusions generally accept some aspect of them to be correct.  


However, there is major political disagreement about climate change.  What should we do about climate change?  How worried should we be?  Do we need to make drastic changes to our way of life?  How big of a role are humans playing, and what changes can humans make that could affect the earth's climate? These are questions to which reasonable and educated people can and will disagree.  Finding a solution to what should be done about climate change will be very complicated.  People have a wide range of opinions about the appropriate response to learning more about the changing climate.

Despite these differences of opinion, debating about climate change, whether it is happening, or what should be done about it is not the focus of our discussion over the next few weeks.  Rather, we are going to focus on understanding the problem, its causes and its effects, from a scientific perspective.  As we explore these causes and effects using evidence, we will learn more about this globally significant issue.