The Heat is On for Change
In a long-awaited policy announcement,
President Bush has unveiled his administration's plan to reduce
global warming. Focusing on tax credits and other incentives intended
to encourage but not force the cooperation of industries and business,
Bush's plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United
States the world's largest producer of the greenhouse gases
that cause global warming approximately 4.5 percent by the
Critics, both at home and abroad, were
quick to criticize the voluntary nature of the President's proposals.
Unlike the larger cuts in greenhouse gases mandated by the Kyoto
treaty, the smaller cuts Bush recommends are voluntary goals; U.S.
businesses will be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not
to participate. (President Bush pulled the United States out of
the Kyoto treaty last year over his concerns that, under the Kyoto
treaty, the United States might pay too high of an economic price
for cleaning up its air.) Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut
pointed out that the United States has already fallen short of the
voluntary emission reductions it agreed to in the 1992 Rio treaty.
"We've found that these voluntary programs just don't work."
Exactly what is the concern over global
warming? Early last year, the United Nation's Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released four reports as part of
its Climate Change 2001 project. The reports, written and
reviewed by scientists from over 120 countries, were prepared to
provide clear data and recommendations to policymakers around the
world. In the first IPCC report, the scientists issued a clear warning:
Curtail air pollution now or expect drastic climate change in the
next century. That report presented the following facts:
- Earth's average surface temperature rose 0.6°C (1.1°F)
over the last century. The authors' worst-case scenario predicts
that the temperature may rise by as much as 5.8°C (11°F)
during this century.
- A 60-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (including human-caused
emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons)
is required to stabilize the level of these pollutants in the
air. Since 1750, the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth's
atmosphere has increased by 31% percent. Scientists do not believe
that this level has been reached any time during the past 20 million
- Snow cover has decreased 10% over the past half-century. Glaciers
have begun melting and sea levels are rising.
The IPCC scientists blame human activity for most of the current
global warming. Industry and automobiles spew tremendous quantities
of greenhouse gases into the air every day. The Kyoto agreements
were an attempt to come up with an international plan to curb these
The risks of inaction are too great to ignore. The IPCC reports
describe some possible scenarios resulting from the rise in global
- Weather events like El Niño will become more extreme,
leading to more droughts and flooding.
- Changing ocean temperatures will lead to loss of marine species,
which will cause a "catastrophic cascade in the food chain."
- Land-dwelling animals will also be endangered because they may
not be able to adapt quickly enough to the climate changes.
- Coastal areas and small islands may become submerged, displacing
Think About the Problem
Many of the graphs in the Recent period
show rapid growth beginning in the 1950s. Discuss with students
the correlation between growth in World Population, Automobile Production,
and Cattle stocks. Ask them the following questions:
- What is the cause of the growth of these graphs?
- If you were to graph the number of television sets worldwide
since 1950, what do you think the graph would look like? If you
compared this graph with the world temperature graph, what conclusion
could you draw from this about how televisions contribute to global
warming? Would this be a valid conclusion?
- How do scientists make the connection between greenhouse gas
emissions and global warming? What roles do automobiles and industry
- Look at the Forest
Land Use data graph in the Recent date range. Why does
the graph drop so abruptly in the 1990s? Why does the graph represent
a positive step for global warming? (Students may not be able
to answer these questions without additional research. They can
use the Web sites provided below in Extending the Problem to find
the necessary information.)
Extending the Problem
There are extensive resources on global
warming available on the Web. The following sites are appropriate
for middle school and high school students:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) site, Global
Warming, provides lots of useful information about global
warming, including a Visitor Center where students can read about
the impact of global warming on different groups, such as small
business, industry, health professionals, and outdoor enthusiasts.
Warming Kids Site is for younger students and includes games
as well as age-appropriate information.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists provides a curriculum
guide for grades 9-12 to use with the Global
Warming: Early Warning Signs map. The map is viewable online
and provides exhaustive information on the "fingerprints"
left behind by global climate change.
Warming: Focus on the Future is an online version of a traveling
exhibit developed by the American Museum of Natural History and
the Environmental Defense Fund and is meant to be a visual introduction
to global warming. The exhibit puts global warming into the context
of a timeline showing Earth's climate and geological development.
- Yahoo News offers full and up-to-date coverage of Global
Warming. This listing provides links to recent news articles
on the latest developments related to global warming.
Primer on Climate Change is Environment Canada's introduction
to climate change. This site emphasizes the science of climate
change and what an individual can do to reduce his or her own
personal impact on the climate. Also available in French.
The following Riverdeep Current articles
offer additional angles and teaching ideas related to global warming:
Heat Is On" This multimedia article looks at how
scientists study climate changes and features interviews with
scientists who helped create the Global Warming Lab.
Through the Smog" NASA satellites have shown a
clear, real-time picture of how air pollution quickly spreads
from one country to another and affects the global atmosphere.
The article examines air pollution, smog, and the impact of bad
air on breathing.
Off with Algae" Scientists propose that fertilizing
the ocean with iron may cause more phytoplankton to grow. The
phytoplankton would then absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide during
photosynthesis, thereby counteracting global warming.
the Food Web" Global warming disrupts animal hibernation
and migration patterns.
- "Reefs in
Danger" Earth's important, yet vulnerable reefs
are threatened by global warming and pollution.