Will we continue to be
boiling brainless frogs'?
To the Teacher:
Joseph Romm has likened humans to "slowly boiling brainless frogs."
Global warming is slowly boiling us, and we are brainlessly allowing it to happen,
despite the information science is providing and our supposed intelligence.
do your students know about the climate crisis? The "Moving Opinion Poll"
below will help to elicit this information and suggest possible later inquiries.
Following the poll are two students readings. The first summarizes some of the
basic information about climate change and global warming and the warning signs
we can all see. The second presents key issues facing the global climate conference
that will take place in Copenhagen in December 2009. Discussion questions and
a suggested action and global citizenship project follow.
more information on global warming, see The Unpleasant
News About Global Warming in the high school section of www.teachablemoment.org.
The lesson includes basic information as well as an outline for further inquiries.
background materials on this site include "Green
Initiatives to Combat Climate Change," "What
Will President Obama Do About The Global Warming Time Bomb?" "Presidential
Election 2008: Oil Addiction, The Economy & The Planet," and "Paying
for Climate Change."
Moving Opinion Poll
moving opinion poll is a way to activate students, to let them see that people
can listen respectfully to views different from their own and perhaps even change
two large signs on opposite sides of the room: "Strongly Agree" and
"Strongly Disagree." Explain that students will be participating in
a Moving Opinion Poll. Each time students hear a statement they should move to
the place along the imaginary line that most closely reflects their opinion. For
strong disagreement, move all the way to one side of the room. For strong agreement,
move to the opposite side. Or move to anywhere in between.
with non-controversial opinions as an introduction. For example: The best band
in history was The Beatles. The best dessert is apple pie. Then introduce statements
on the issue in question--in this case, global warming. After each statement,
invite a few students to explain briefly why they are standing where they are.
This is not a time for conversation or debate. Rather, it is a way to find out
what people are thinking and how differently they may view a matter. You might
want to change statements slightly by qualifying them or putting them in different
contexts to see if opinions change.
"Engaging Your Class Through Groupwork"
in the high school section of www.teachablemoment.org) for other techniques to
engage students on controversial issues.)
suggested statements about climate change for the moving opinion poll:
Climate change is happening across the globe.
2. The global climate
has always fluctuated; the change we are now seeing is simply part of a natural
3. Humans do not need to take action to address climate
4. Global warming is a hoax.
5. Unless we
take significant action, global warming will have seriously damaging consequences
for human civilization.
6. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such
as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides, are causing climate change.
Global warming will produce some valuable effects, like enabling people to grow
more crops because of milder weather--so we shouldn't try to stop this process.
8. We can reduce some of the harmful effects of climate change
if we significantly reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.
21inches of rain that recently fell in Georgia over a period of 24 hours is proof
of climate change.
10. U.S. government regulations to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions will hurt industry profits and cause unemployment.
The US emits 25 percent of the greenhouse gases causing global warming.
you hear any new insights or information during the Moving Opinion Poll? If so,
don't you understand about climate change?
would you like to know more about?
questions do you have about climate change and global warming?
unsettling weather events
National Resources Defense Council reported that average temperatures in Arctic
are "rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world
ice cap as a whole is shrinking
.Polar bears, whales, walrus and seals are
changing their feeding and migration patterns, making it harder for native people
to hunt them. And along Arctic coastlines, entire villages will be uprooted because
they're in danger of being swamped." (www.nrdc.org,
New York Times reported that Douglas County, Georgia, was "hit by
21 inches of rain in a 24-hour period from Sunday to Monday, knocking out the
drinking water supply to most residents, and forcing others to boil their water.
(9/23/09) A state climatologist said the rain caused the worst flooding in 100
years in some parts of Atlanta. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported
that at a creek near Atlanta the water level surged to over 27 feet, nearly 11
feet over the old record.
southern part of the island of Madagascar in Africa is "suffering severe
drought and famine," according to the website AllAfrica.com.
"Lack of rainfall during the summer season has destroyed the country's main
harvest in March and April. Half a million Malagasy have little or no access to
clean water and food." (www.AllAfrica.com,
these stories evidence of climate change? Climate scientists cannot be certain
that a particular weather event is due to global warming. But they are certain
that 1) the global climate is warming and 2) human activities are the main reason
for this change.
1988, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been collecting
and reviewing information on climate change from thousands of scientists around
the world. Every few years, after scientific study and discussions, the panel
issues an assessment report summarizing their findings. The IPCC's most recent
assessment report (2007) found that:
activities since the industrial revolution are the main cause for the global build-up
of greenhouse gases. These gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous
oxides, "have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750."
concentrations, confirmed by many observations, have caused climbing temperatures,
rising seas and changing weather patterns, which will continue for centuries.
we do not significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, further warming will occur
and cause additional changes in the global climate system.
action can reduce some of the harmful results of climate change. (www.ipcc.ch)
1997, delegates from around the world met in Kyoto, Japan, in response to earlier
IPCC warnings on climate change. They negotiated the Kyoto Protocol, an international
treaty that committed industrialized nations to cutting greenhouse gas emissions
by at least five percent below levels measured in 1990. The treaty was ratified
by 184 nations--but not the United States. It took effect on February 16, 2005.
George W. Bush and the US Senate opposed the protocol because it required smaller
cuts from developing nations like China and India than from industrialized nations
such as Britain, France, and the US However, the developed countries are responsible
for most of the man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In fact, the US is
responsible for 25 percent of them. Since rejecting the Kyoto agreement, the US
has taken no meaningful action to reduce its emissions.
the last IPCC assessment, climate scientists have continued to measure increases
in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. They have been unpleasantly
surprised to learn that Arctic sea ice has been melting much faster than they
had expected. This may be good news for shipping companies that for the first
time in human history will be able to send their ships on shorter routes through
ice-free sea lanes. But it is very bad news for Arctic villagers--and for the
planet as a whole.
have known for some time that global warming causes the tundra to thaw and release
carbon dioxide. But their latest research reveals that the tundra holds more of
this greenhouse gas than they had thought. As global warming increases, still
more carbon dioxide will be released, speeding the warming process. This feedback
loop is more bad news for our planet.
this growing threat, our response to global warming has so far been meager. Some
have likened our predicament to a frog sitting in a pot of slowly warming water,
not realizing that it will eventually come to a boil. Joseph Romm, a physicist
and energy expert, said: "We need all the unmuffled warnings we can get"
about global warming, "given that humans are not like slowly boiling frogs,
we are like slowly boiling brainless frogs." (www.climateprogress.org)
unmuffled warnings were heard at the United Nations in September 2009: Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon warned that climate change would "increase pressure on water,
food, and land
and topple governments." President Oscar Arias Sánchez
of Costa Rica described the global situation as "on the brink of a precipice."
President Mohamed Nasheed of the low-lying Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean
warned that "if things go business as usual, we will not live
will not exist."
sea levels threaten more than the Maldives. The Asian Development Bank reported
that global warming will swamp some Indonesian Islands, forcing "the relocation
of many millions of people." To where? The Philippines, Thailand, Singapore
and Vietnam will also be especially hard hit by rising sea levels.
Obama and other world leaders decided on November 17, 2009, to put off reaching
a comprehensive international climate change agreement at Copenhagen. Among the
chief reasons, according to the New York Times, was "Congress' inability
to enact climate and energy legislation that sets binding targets on greenhouse
gases in the United States. Without such a commitment, other nations are loath
to make their own pledges." A "fully binding legal agreement" might
be reached at a yet unscheduled second summit meeting in Mexico City. (Helene
Cooper, "Leaders Will Delay Agreement on Climate," New York Times,
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
What is the IPCC?
3. What major conclusions about climate change
have scientists reached? How do they know?
4. What is the Kyoto
Protocol? Why didn't the US commit to this agreement?
5. What major
observations have scientists made about the Arctic? The tundra? What makes these
6. How and why will global warming affect
water supplies? Food supplies? Habitats for animals and humans? Governments?
How might rising Arctic sea levels affect the US?
Copenhagen and the world's future
place: Copenhagen, Denmark
Purpose: To produce a new and binding
climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto treaty
from 192 nations
Dates: December 7-December 18, 2009
UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that by 2020 global emissions
must fall 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels to prevent the worst results of global
warming. This would, they project, limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6
degrees Fahrenheit. Would the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen meet this goal?
The future of planet Earth hangs upon the answer to this question.
Climate Change Conference resulted in an agreement called the "Copenhagen
Accord." But it did not result in a legal, enforceable international treaty.
As Reuters reported, "It set a target of limiting global warming to a maximum
2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times -- seen as a threshold for dangerous
changes such as more floods, droughts, mudslides, sandstorms and rising seas.
But it failed to say how this would be achieved." (www.reuters.com,
executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
Yvo de Boer, has declared that answers to four questions will determine the extent
and worth of any international agreement. (www.en.cop15.dk)
How much are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their greenhouse gas
to a New York Times report on a UN meeting in September 2009, none of the
larger nations "want to take the lead in fighting for significant international
emissions reduction targets, lest they be accused at home of selling out future
jobs and economic growth." (9/20/09) The same problem hampered the Kyoto
negotiators 12 years ago. Industrialized nations have so far pledged roughly half
of the IPCC target.
Accord does not commit any nation to specific targets for limiting greenhouse
gas emissions, but leaves it up to each industrialized and developing nation to
make its own target.
How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do
to limit their emissions?
Hu Jintao of China promised at the UN meeting to reduce the growth of his country's
carbon dioxide emissions by "a notable margin" between now and 2020-but
did not explain further. India's environmental minister, Jairam Ramesh, said that
India's demands for an international accord were unchanged: India wants industrialized
nations to agree to significant emissions reductions by 2020 and also provide
financial and technical assistance to the developing world." (New York
Times, 10/4/09) China produces roughly 23 percent of all global emissions,
India less than 5 percent. Other developing nations have agreed that they must
cut emissions but have rejected mandatory limits and, like India, demand help.
the Copenhagen Accord, the position of the developing countries is essentially
How will we pay for the help developing countries need to reduce their emissions
and adapt to the impact of climate change?
One example of this dilemma: Many developing countries are cutting down their
forests, both for lumber and to open up pasture and farmland. According to William
Laurance, the former president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation
(www.news.mongbay.com), the destruction
of tropical forests spews 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
each year, accounting for 20 percent of global emissions. (www.climateforestscommission.org).
But if these countries are forced to limit deforestation, how will they be compensated
for the economic loss?
text of the Copenhagen Accord says: "Developed countries shall provide adequate,
predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building
to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries."
The developed countries accepted a goal, again not a legally binding one, of providing
$100 billion a year by 2020 to help the developing countries.
The accord recognized "the importance of reducing emission from deforestation
and forest degradation and the need to enhance removals or greenhouse gas emission
by forests." The developed world agrees to provide "positive incentives"
to fund such action.
How is the money going to be managed?
accord did not include an agreement on supervision of financial help.
to the Copenhagen Accord
Obama: "Today we've made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough
here in Copenhagen. For the first time in history all major economies have come
together to accept their responsibility to take action to confront the threat
of climate change
. We've come a long way, but we have much further to go."
we sealed a deal," UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said. "The
'Copenhagen Accord' may not be everything everyone had hoped for, but this ...
is an important beginning."
Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The decision has been very difficult for me.
We have done one step, we have hoped for several more."
of developing nations:
Serra, Brazil's climate change ambassador: "We have a big job ahead to
avoid climate change through effective emissions reduction targets, and this was
not done here."
Stanislaus Di-Aping, Sudanese delegate who represented the Group of 77 developing
nations: "The developed countries have decided that damage to developing
countries is acceptable
.[The 2-degree target] will result in massive devastation
to Africa and small island states." (Most of the developing countries want
a 1.5 degree target.)
McKibben, a 350.org leader: "Our leaders have been a disappointment,
and the talks have ended without any kind of fair, ambitious, or legally binding
global agreement. It's unclear whether the weak 'accord' which emerged early this
morning will provide a platform strong enough to deliver the kind of action we'll
need in 2010 and beyond.
Granacki, chief organizer for Greenpeace: "The job of world leaders is
not done. Today they failed to avert catastrophic climate change. The city of
Copenhagen is a climate crime scene tonight....World leaders had a once in a generation
chance to change the world for good, to avert catastrophic climate change. In
the end they produced a poor deal full of loopholes big enough to fly Air Force
Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club: "The world's nations have
come together and concluded a historic--if incomplete--agreement to begin tackling
.It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible."
Pica, Friends of the Earth US: This is not a strong deal or a just one --
it isn't even a real one. It's just repackaging old positions and pretending they're
the first time the United States government is now seriously considering actions
to limit global warming.
On June 26, 2009, the House passed legislation to curb emissions of heat-trapping
greenhouse gases through a cap-and-trade system. This would establish a limit,
or cap, on how much pollution a particular company can emit per year. Permits
would be issued to the company based on the level of greenhouse gases it has been
authorized to emit.
that exceed their limit would be allowed to purchase permits from companies that
are in compliance--this is what the "trade" part of "cap-and-trade"
refers to. Companies will be able to purchase someone else's emission reductions
rather than reduce their own. For example, rather than cutting emissions at its
US refinery, ExxonMobil could purchase "offsets" from an Indonesian
farmer who plants trees. (Public Citizen News, July-August, 2009) Tightening
the cap on emissions would push such polluters to meet targets by limiting their
environmental organizations argue that the House bill would cut US emissions by
only a fraction of what is necessary. Others support the cap-and-trade bill as
a step in the right direction. Business and industrial groups are also divided.
The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers oppose the
House bill. But Pacific Gas and Electric, a major California utility, supports
the legislation, and withdrew its membership from the Chamber of Commerce as a
result. The Senate is considering its own bill.
On September 30, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced
that it is preparing new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants
and other industrial facilities. The regulations would require these facilities
to provide proof that they are using the best technology to curb emissions, or
else suffer penalties. The rule would apply only to facilities that emit at least
25,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Such companies are reportedly responsible
for nearly 70 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.
to the New York Times, major industries and utilities are working closely
with Congress to ensure that a climate bill would circumvent such EPA regulations
by substituting the cap-and-trade system.
Obama said earlier that he prefers "a comprehensive legislative approach
to regulating emissions and stemming global warming, not a piecemeal application
of rules." But he has authorized the proposed new EPA regulation because
it "could goad lawmakers into reaching an agreement. It could also provide
evidence of the United States' seriousness as negotiators prepare for United Nations
talks in Copenhagen in December
." (New York Times, 10/1/09)
What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
Did the Copenhagen Climate Conference achieve its stated purpose? Why or why
not? Whatever your answer, how do you explain such very different assessments
of the conference as that by the president, who called it a "meaningful and
unprecedented breakthrough, " by Carl Pope, who hailed it as "a historic--if
incomplete--agreement, and Nicole Granacki, who called Copenhagen "a climate
Why do you think that the world leaders at Copenhagen did not achieve a binding
agreement? What specific evidence can you cite for your opinion?
What actions are the US Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency proposing?
What concerns do American industries have about these actions? Environmental groups?
discussion and citizenship
we continue to be "slowly boiling brainless frogs"?
did the Copenhagen Climate Conference tell us?
the class into small groups of three to four students for a micro lab, which involves
only speaking and listening, not discussion or dialogue. Within each group, each
student has a minute to respond to the two questions above. Designate a volunteer
in each group to speak first. Announce when time is up.
invite a full class discussion, which the teacher might direct toward an action
project. See in the high school section of www.teachablemoment.org "Teaching
Social Responsibility" for citizenship activities that can be applied
to the climate change issue.
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.