Warm Up: Greenhouses
- You may start this mini-unit by asking the students if they have ever seen a greenhouse, if they can explain what a greenhouse is used for and how it works. Greenhouses are used to grow plants by creating a (micro) climate that is warm enough for them to thrive in. Greenhouses are made of glass and/or plastic so that light can enter but the heat that is produced cannot escape. The walls and roof of a greenhouse trap the warming air inside of the building.
- Transition into Activity 1 by highlighting how the roof and walls of a greenhouse are similar to the Earth’s atmosphere.
Activity One: Introduction to the Greenhouse Effect
- Using Reproducible #1: Introduction to the Greenhouse Effect Diagrams as your guide, draw a diagram on the board of the Earth, atmosphere, the Sun, and greenhouse gases. Explain that the Earth receives the majority of its energy and warmth from the Sun in rays called solar radiation. Define the atmosphere. Label and define greenhouse gases and explain that in addition to oxygen, which we breathe, these are the other gases that naturally exist in our atmosphere because they come out of volcanoes and ocean vents. Explain the greenhouse effect to the class while drawing arrows to demonstrate the role of solar radiation.
- Show how the greenhouse effect naturally warms the Earth by trapping solar radiation. Clarify that when everything is in balance the greenhouse effect keeps Earth at a stable warm temperature. Without this effect, the Earth would be exceedingly hot and cold from day to night, like Mercury, and would not be able to support life.
- Define fossil fuel energy. Explain to students that things we use everyday like cars, planes, lights, and water from showers and sinks, use up great amounts of energy, most of which comes from fossil fuels that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Ask the students to help you create a list of everyday activities that use energy and contribute to greenhouse gases. Save this list, as you will add solutions to it later in the lesson.
- Draw arrows that show a lot of infrared radiation getting trapped between the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface because of the extra greenhouse gases from human activities like the ones on the class list. Explain that CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not bad when there are small amounts, since plants can convert them into Oxygen and other things which enable life to survive. When there are too many greenhouse gases, however, plants cannot handle the amount and cannot process them into Oxygen fast enough. An example of a planet with a “runaway” greenhouse effect is Venus, which is too hot to support life. Make clear that only when there are too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does the greenhouse effect become harmful and contribute to climate change.
- Students can now copy the diagram on the board into a notebook or white paper with markers or colored pencils. Tell them they can draw their diagram with fewer arrows showing radiation being reflected back into the earth by the greenhouse gases.
Activity Two: Discuss trend of rising CO2 in the Atmosphere
- Now that students understand that global climate change is caused by heat trapping greenhouse gases, either display Reproducible #2- CO2 Emissions Chart on an overhead or pass out copies to the students. The graph illustrates rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere in past decades. Make clear that this is due to our rise in energy use as people have become more technologically advanced. Give examples like before the 1900s people used horse drawn carriages, but after the early 1900s technological advances like the automobile made CO2 levels start to rise in addition to other inventions. Explain that CO2 is one of the most prevalent greenhouse gases and is preventing heat from escaping into space.
- Define climate change. Discuss the effects of climate change like drought, rising sea levels due to melting glaciers, floods, and erratic weather like hurricanes. On an overhead, you can show visual examples of these effects using Reproducible #3 Examples of Climate Change Effects.
Activity Three: Discuss methods of solving climate change
- The next step to understanding the climate change crisis is to introduce students to solutions. Now that students understand that extra greenhouse gases come from fossil fuel energy use, teach them about clean, renewable energy by defining renewable energy and non-renewable energy. Next, give examples of renewable energy technologies such as: solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal, and hydropower.
- Discuss other ways of decreasing energy use by introducing the “The 3 R’s”: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Define and explain how every person can reduce their consumption, reuse products, and recycle. Ask if they recycle at home and give examples of how they can reuse (reusable lunch box instead of brown and plastic bags) and reduce (only take as much paper and food as you will use).
Activity Four: Proposing Solutions through Art
- Introduce students to the Cool Globes project (http://ww2.earthday.net/coolglobes). Display the Cool Globes website so students can view the globes in the “Globe Gallery”. Describe the project and define public art. Display some of the different globes and discuss why each theme is a good solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Revisit the list made at the beginning of class of actions that create greenhouse gases. Complete this list by adding solutions to climate change.
- After seeing the Cool Globes, students can then make their own Cool Map (a flat Cool Globe!) by drawing their own solution to global climate change with crayons, markers or colored pencils on the blank Reproducible #4: Cool Map, which you will hand out to the class. Have students draw solutions to climate change on their maps, thinking about the lessons learned and what message they would like to send about prevention and solutions. Give them ideas and get their creative juices going. Reproducible #5: Cool Map Cut-outs containssix sheets ofenvironmental and renewable technology graphics that students may cut out and glue on their map in addition to their own drawing.
- If there is enough time, give students the option to present their Cool Map and solution to the class.
Wrap-up: Raising Public Awareness through Public Art
Let the class know that their Cool Maps will become public art. If possible try and get the artwork displayed in a hallway or somewhere else in the school where others may view it. Also, you may be able to find a business or public center that would be willing to display the artwork. Otherwise, be sure to display the finished products in the classroom for some time.
Extension: Calculate Your Carbon Footprint!
Have students visit the interactive measuring tool at http://www.earthday.net/footprint/index.html to determine how much CO2 they produce and what they can do to reduce their impact. Ask them to come up with some goals for how they are going to reduce their emissions, and have them write out a plan for how they are going to accomplish those goals.
In this lesson, students were introduced to carbon’s role in the greenhouse effect, and its connection to climate change. After identifying the causes and solutions to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they brainstormed solutions and ways to raise awareness of environmental issues. In the final activity, students designed public art to raise awareness about climate change and environmental issues.