Fitting the facts together & acting on them
climate is changing due to human activity, and the effects are
already being felt around the globe." Evidence for this conclusion
is "unequivocal." These were the summary findings of
the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
For some people these findings remain controversial. But most
of the world's scientists, thousands of whom have contributed
to IPCC reports, believe the findings are based on compelling
evidence gathered over more than 20 years.
of that evidence and summary conclusions by several scientific
organizations are reported in the first student reading below.
The second reading reports on the views of climate change deniers
and their sources of financial support. The third reading offers
a number of ideas for student action on climate change, notably
the October 10, 2010, event sponsored by 350.org, Greenpeace and
the Rainforest Action Network.
additional student action ideas, see "Green
Initiatives to Combat Climate Change" in the high school
section of www.teachablemoment.org and "Teaching
Social Responsibility," which details an approach for
involving students in their community or in a schoolwide educational
an inquiry-oriented approach to the subject, see "Climate
Change Controversy & Student Inquiry." For additional
climate change information and a report on the most recent international
conference, see "Copenhagen
Climate Conference: Will we continue to be 'slowly broiling brainless
Student Reading 1:
Key facts + key conclusions=0?
"Try to fit these facts together," writes Bill McKibben,
author of articles and books on climate change and the founder
of 350.org, "a movement to unite the world around solutions
to the climate crisis."
to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the
planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest
12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May,
and June on record. (www.noaa.gov,
'staggering' new study from Canadian researchers has shown that
warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine
food chain, by 40% since 1950.
Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records
in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan
(121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which
also set the new all-time Asia record in May:almost 130 degrees.
"I can turn my oven to 130 degrees," notes McKibben.
late-summer addition to McKibben's mid-summer list of climate
Millions of people in Pakistan are experiencing the catastrophic
results of unprecedented monsoon rains and floods that have
surged from north to south, covering an immense area, destroying
villages, homes, and cropfields, and leaving them destitute.
summer heat in Russia is responsible for thousands of deaths
and massive fires that destroyed 25 percent of the country's
floods and mudslides have ravaged portions of China.
- "Extreme Heat Bleaches Coral, And Scientists See Global
Threat" was the headline of a New York Times story
about the die-offs of coral reefs and associated fisheries from
Thailand to Texas "that feed millions of people."
and dying coral off the coast of Thailand
C. Mark Eakin/NOAA
have said repeatedly that climate change is not necessarily the
reason for a particular flood or heat wave. Unprecedented deluges
and droughts have occurred before, and climatologists do not jump
to conclusions. But this is precisely what Sean Hannity of Fox
News and other climate change skeptics did last winter. Commenting
on "the most severe winter storm in years," he declared
that it "would seem to contradict Al Gore's hysterical global
warming theories." (2/8/10)
scientific scholars, climatologists study such matters as heat
and rainfall records, temperature, atmospheric composition and
dynamics. They know that various factors affect the weather. One
record-setting heat wave or unusually cold day does not lead them
to predict either global warming or a new ice age. Climatologists
collect statistics, note long-term weather changes, see patterns
over time, create mathematical models, and draw conclusions that
enable them to make reasonably accurate predictions.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying
and assessing scientific, technical, and socio-economic information
on climate change from thousands of scientists worldwide since
1988. It has long been making such predictions.
one of the late summer 2010 weather events in Pakistan, Russia,
or China surprised scientists working with IPCC. Its 2007 report
stated that rains over north Pakistan had been growing heavier
for 40 years and predicted greater flooding in south Asia's monsoon
region. The IPCC also predicted a doubling of disastrous droughts
in Russia. Because rain had increased in northwest China by up
to 33% since 1961, it predicted there would be more frequent flooding
in this century.
report concluded: "The climate is changing due to human activity,
and the effects are already being felt around the globe."
The evidence of this conclusion, it declared, is "unequivocal."
National Research Council of the U.S. (NRC) reported: "Since
the beginning of the industrial revolution, concentrations of
greenhouse gases from human activities have risen substantially.
Evidence now shows that increases in these years very likely (>90
percent chance) account for most the Earth's warming over the
past 50 years." (www.nationalacademies.org,
finding that the climate has warmed in recent decades and that
human activities are already contributing adversely to global
climate change has been endorsed by every national science academy
that has issued a statement on climate change, including the science
academies of all of the major industrialized countries
remaining scientific society is known to reject the basic findings
of human influence on recent climate change." change. (www.wikipedia.org)
late July, the US Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate
change. They didn't do less than they could have -- they did nothing,
preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule
a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions
("We're Hot as Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Any More:
Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming," www.tomdispatch.com,
a piece of ice four times the size of Manhattan island (100 square
miles) and about half the height of the Empire State Building
broke from a Greenland glacier and will likely reach the Atlantic
Ocean within the next two years. Its effects are uncertain.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released
figures in January demonstrating that the decade ending in 2009
was the warmest on record.
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they
2. Define "scientific evidence." What scientific
evidence is there for climate change? What evidence is there that
"human activity" is responsible for it? If you need
more information, where might you get it?
3. Why hasn't the Senate acted on climate change? If you
don't know, how might you find out?
Student Reading 2:
Oil companies fund climate change deniers
What do Americans think about the scientific findings on climate
change? That depends on how you phrase the question.
January 2010, the Pew Research Center reported: "Dealing
with global warming ranks at the bottom of the public's list of
priorities; just 28% consider this a top priority, the lowest
measure for any issue tested in the survey."
Gallup poll in March 2010 asked: "Thinking about what is
said in the news, in your view, is the seriousness of global warming
generally exaggerated, generally correct or is it generally underestimated?"
Gallup reported that 48% of respondents thought that the seriousness
of global warming is "generally exaggerated."
as Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor of communications,
pointed out, "This question asked about respondents' perceptions
of the news, not the respondents' perception of warming. A person
who believes climate change has been happening might also feel
that news media coverage of it has been exaggerated." ("The
Climate Majority," New York Times, 6/9/10)
University's Woods Institute for the Environment reported on August
3, 2010, that "large majorities"--about three-quarters--of
Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts residents believe that climate
change "is mostly or partly due to human activity."
These Americans also believe that the US government "should
take action to limit the greenhouse gas emissions of businesses
move to limit emissions right away." The results mirror those
found in other states earlier this year. These surveys found that
more than half of respondents would support sharp emissions cuts
"even if it cost their household $150 a year."
there have also been a growing number of vocal climate change
James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate Committee
on Environment and Public Works, has called global warming "the
greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."
Commenting recently on a minority report of his Senate committee,
Imhofe said, "it shows that there is no consensus--except
that there are significant gaps in what scientists know about
the climate system. It's time for the Obama Administration to
recognize this. Its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases
rests on bad science." (http://inhofe.senate.gov/public/)
Beck of Fox News said, "In September of 2007, there was
a 25 percent reduction in the usual minimum [Arctic] ice cover
the two years since, nearly all of the ice has returned."
(12/15/09) The Union of Concerned Scientists responded: "In
2007, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Arctic
sea ice to be 39 percent below the long-term average for September,
when the area of ice is lowest each year. In September 2009,
the ice was again low--245 percent below the long-term average."
number of groups have sent petitions to the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) because it found not only that "greenhouse
gases contribute to air pollution" but that they also "endanger
public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air
Act." The petitioners claimed "that recently discovered
errors in the most recent climate assessment by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, make the entire document suspect."
Although EPA acknowledges the document wasn't perfect, it "confirmed
only two [errors] in a 3,000 page report. The first pertains
to the rate of Himalayan glacier melt and the second to the
percentage of the Netherlands below sea level." Neither
of the errors "undermines the basic fact that the climate
is changing in ways that threaten our health and welfare,"
the agency says. (www.sciencenews.org,
take oil money and use it to fund climate deniers," read
a headline in the British Independent. "Free-market,
anti-climate change think-tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research
Foundation in the US and the International Policy Network in
the UK have received grants totaling hundreds of thousands of
pounds from the multinational energy company ExxonMobil. Both
organizations have funded international seminars pulling together
climate change deniers from across the globe." (www.independent.co.uk,
number of Republican Senate candidates are climate change
deniers. New Mexico's Jon Barela: "I don't mean to be
flippant about this, but only God knows where our climate
is going." Wisconsin's Ron Johnson: "I absolutely
do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change.
It's not proven by any stretch of the imagination." Florida's
Marco Rubio: "I don't think there's the scientific evidence
to justify it." California's Carly Fiorina, who is challenging
Democrat Barbara Boxer's Senate seat: "Terrorism kills--and
Barbara Boxer's worried about the weather."(www.care2.com)
Will quoted Robert Laughlin, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in
Physics, who said that climate change over geologic time "is
something the earth has done 'on its own without asking anyone's
permission or explaining itself.' People can cause climate
change, but major glacial episodes have occurred at regular
intervals of 100,000 years, 'always a slow, steady cooling
followed by abrupt warming back to conditions similar to today's.'
Six million years ago the Mediterranean dried up. Ninety million
years ago there were alligators in the Arctic. Three hundred
million years ago Northern Europe was a desert and coal formed
in Antarctica. 'One thing we know for sure,' Laughlin says
about these convulsions, 'is that people weren't involved.'"
("The Earth Doesn't Care," Newsweek, 9/12/10)
environmental organization Greenpeace reports that Koch Industries
has made "a small industry of funding research and public
relations endeavors aimed at undermining the prevailing scientific
view that human-driven greenhouse gas emissions are contributing
to a warming planet--as well as financing opposition to the development
of clean-energy policy and technologies
Global Warming Solutions Act requires the state's greenhouse gas
emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Steadily rising
California coastal sea levels are projected to rise nearly five
feet by 2100 and threaten to destroy homes and other buildings,
roads, and power plants. But Koch Industries, Valero Energy Corporation,
Tesoro Corporation and other big oil interests have already spent
more than $8 million to postpone putting the California act from
going into effect. Almost all the money comes from oil companies,
89% of them from out of state.
Industries is also now a partner to Exxon Mobil, the American
Petroleum Institute, and other donors that support organizations
and front-groups opposing clean energy development and policies
to limit climate change. In fact, Koch has reportedly out-spent
Exxon Mobil in funding these groups in recent years. From 2005
to 2008, Exxon Mobil spent $8.9 million while Koch Industries-controlled
foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations
promoting climate change denial. (www.green.blogs.nytimes.com,
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan
organization that collects information on political spending,
Koch Industries' biggest enterprise is petroleum refining and
most of its lobbying efforts are related to energy issues. Its
political action committees "have donated at least 83% of
their cash to Republican candidates and committees." (www.opensecrets.org)
the other side of the divide is the scientific community and environmentalists,
including McKibben's 350.org. "350 is the most important
number in the world," according to the organization--"it's
what scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere." The planet faces "both human and
natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remain above
350 parts per million." The number as of 2009, reports 350.org,
was 387.35. (See www.350.org/about/science.)
has no interest in the opinions of human beings.
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they
2. What problem with polling the public on climate change
does Jon Kronick identify? What examples could you create that
might test his findings?
3. How would you respond to Senator Imhofe's statements
about climate change? To Glenn Beck's? To Ron Johnson's? To Carly
Fiorina's? To Robert Laughlin's?
What questions might you ask each? What answers do you think they
4. What are some major sources of funding for climate change
deniers? How would you explain such funding?
5. Why do Bill McKibben and members of his organization
regard 350 as "the most important number in the world"?
Why? Do you? Why or why not?
Acting on climate change facts
"We're Hot as Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Any More,"
not going to get the Senate to act next week, or maybe even next
year. It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get
the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn't been a movement, then
the Voting Rights Act would have passed in
never. We may
need to get arrested. We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined,
nonviolent, but very real anger.
we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel
is wrecking the one earth we've got. It's not going to go away
because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we're
going to have to raise our voices."
are some opportunities for raising voices and acting to address
global climate change.
Work Party on Oct. 10, 2010
and two other environmental groups, Greenpeace and the Rainforest
Action Network, are organizing a global day of action on climate
change on Sunday, October 10, 2010: "In Auckland, New Zealand,
they're having a giant bike fix-up day, to get every bicycle in
the city back on the road. In the Maldives, they're putting up
solar panels on the President's office. In Kampala, Uganda, they're
going to plant thousands of trees, and in Bolivia they're installing
solar stoves for a massive carbon neutral picnic."
Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has endorsed
the 10/10/10 Global Work Party: "It's time for us to roll
up our sleeves and get to work on building the clean energy future
that will generate economic opportunity and provide a better,
safer, healthier world for our children. On October 10, I encourage
everyone to do his / her part to be part of the solution to the
Global Work Party can take place wherever participants live. The
goal is "to help deal with global warming in your city or
community" and to help build the nonviolent mass movement
McKibben and others regard as essential for serious government
action on climate change.
can sign up to host a local event at www.350.org/oct10.
For a listing of ideas, see www.350.org/workparty-ideas.
350.org has also set up a special email for sharing ideas: email@example.com.
Actions during the UN Climate Talks, Nov. 29-Dec. 10, 2010
are being planned to coincide with the annual United Nations Climate
Talks, which will take place this year in Cancun, Mexico, from
November 29 to December 10, 2010. See:
taking climate change personally and suggestions for individual
an Active Citizen
your member of Congress, urging him or her to pass strong climate
and energy legislation this year. (Visit
contact info.) Call 1-866-220-0044 and ask to speak to your senators
for the same purpose.
yourself. Be able to explain clearly, concisely, and accurately
why you are raising your voice and why you have chosen to act.
For an illustrated guide to the latest climate science, see www.climateprogress.org.
What questions do students have about options for raising voices
and acting? How might they be answered?
2. What do students propose to do? Develop a project for all classmates
who want to work together? Develop small group or individual projects?
3. In what ways might such projects be developed, acted on, their
results reported to the class?
lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside
Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome
your comments. Please email them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.