An initiative of Earthwatch Institute

Lesson 1: What is climate change?

Leading Question: Does anyone think they know what Climate change is?

Task 1: Ask each child to add their words to a class whiteboard and lead the class to create their own definition.

Task 2: Show the students the following excerpt or explain / read out:

Climate change is the term given to the change in the Earth’s weather patterns.  It is believed that there has been gradual change in weather due to a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

Carbon dioxide is released by animals breathing out, but mostly from burning fossil fuels (such as coal to make electricity).  Carbon dioxide is absorbed by green plants to make their own “food” (photosynthesis) and is also absorbed by the seas.  Before the industrial revolution (burning coal to make electricity), there was a healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because there were enough green plants to absorb the carbon dioxide that was produced on Earth, without it reaching the high levels we have today.

If you think about it, we have a lot less green plants than we used to (eg: deforestation), so not as much carbon dioxide can be absorbed, but we are also producing more carbon emissions on our planet as we increase the need for electricity and produce more rubbish (rotting rubbish also produces greenhouses gases).  In recent years, the amount of greenhouse gases the Earth’s population has produced by burning fossil fuels, and other activities, has reached levels greater than what can be absorbed by green plants and the seas.

Global warming occurs because carbon dioxide traps heat.  So, if there is more carbon dioxide in the air, there is the ability for the atmosphere to trap more heat within it.  Therefore, the temperature of the Earth is hotter than it used to be as there is nowhere for the extra carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases eg: methane) to go or to be used up (absorbed).

Group Activity: Put students into small groups of 3-5:

Ask them to read the statement together and understand words they have not heard before.

Activity Suggestion: Instruct the students to draw a labeled diagram that explains climate change.  Get a leader from each group to present their diagram to the class.  (May be accompanied by a written definition).

Useful Links

This lesson has been developed by the Penny Musgrove, Environmental Education Officer,City of Melville