In this activity, students look at photos, read about, and discuss some of the climate crises in 2018. Then, they survey a range of actions being taken to address it in the U.S. and the world.
See this handout for the image below, the gallery walk images, and the read-aloud section.
Also see complementary lessons related to climate change, including:
- What is the Green New Deal?
- How Can We Prevent Climate Catastrophe? (on the recent IPCC report)
- Young People's Suit Over Climate Disruption Comes to Court
Gathering: Severe Weather Events in 2018
Ask students to look at the image below and included in this handout.
What do they think it represents? Ask them to turn to a partner to share out any thoughts and feelings they have about the image. Ask a few volunteers to share out with the whole class, what they shared with their partner.
Summarize and explain that climate change is causing extreme weather events around the world, as became clear once again in 2018. Global greenhouse gas emissions reached record highs. The special report on limiting global warming, published in October, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said we may have only till 2030 to avert catastrophic climate change.
But as we look back at 2018, it is clear that the reality of climate change is already having severe and destructive effects around the world, as the next activity illustrates.
Post the images in the handout (beginning on page 2) around your room. Invite students to walk around the space quietly, taking a walk through 2018, using the images with their captions to learn about some of the climate disasters that punctuated the year.
As students return to their seats, invite them to do a free-write about the images and information they saw in the gallery walk.
Guiding questions to consider:
- What were your thoughts and feelings during this gallery walk?
- Was there a particular image or event that stood out for you? Why do you think that is?
- What was it like going from one image to the next, 12 climate disasters out of the many that impacted our world in 2018?
- Were there any themes or connections you noticed between the different events?
Next, ask students to break into small groups to share their thoughts and feelings on the questions above and any other issues the images and events brought up for them.
Then, facilitate a full class discussion. Elicit and explain that “weather” refers to the short-term conditions of the atmosphere in a particular area, whereas “climate” refers to weather patterns over the long term. What do the events in our gallery walk tell us about climate change – or climate disruption, as it is sometimes called?
Recent Action on Climate Change
Read the following introduction out loud:
As we just saw in our gallery walk activity, climate change is having devastating effects around the globe. Extreme weather events are on the rise. Whether we want to or not, we’re all in this together, including future generations.
In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report on the impacts of global warming, compelling us to strengthen our global response to the threat of climate change.
Urgent, unprecedented efforts are needed right now to keep global warming in check, to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. With every additional fraction of a degree of warming, the report warns, the risk of heat waves, drought, associated wildfires, heavy rains, and coastal flooding will worsen around the globe. This is moving people, governments and institutions to action in different ways.
Invite different student volunteers to read out loud this list of recent or ongoing efforts around the world, most of them voluntary, to combat climate change. The list is included in the handout.
- Clean technology is growing, improving and getting cheaper. Wind turbines and solar energy technology are expanding. Carbon-emitting coal plants are closing down. This is happening even in the U.S., despite the Trump administration’s promises to reinvigorate the ailing coal industry.
- Though the Trump administration continues to downplay climate change and has reversed many Obama era environmental regulations, Americans’ support for aggressive action on climate change appears to be growing. Voters increasingly support regulating greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy goals. According to a January 2018 Pew Research Center poll, 46 percent of Americans felt climate change should be a top priority for the President and Congress.
- In the U.S. midterm elections, several candidates for office ran on clean energy ambitions. They used their climate advocacy to distinguish themselves, and won.
- Environmental activists around the U.S. this year pushed their representatives to back an ambitious climate change solution dubbed “The Green New Deal,” which is about “decarbonizing” the economy; moving it away from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring that there are jobs for everyone as we make this transition.
- Though President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement (which commits countries to curbing carbon emissions and investing in green technology), more than 80 mayors of cities across the U.S. pledged to continue following the Paris Agreement guidelines.
- Internationally, a “Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy” is an alliance of cities and local governments with a shared long-term vision of action to combat climate change and move to a low-emission, resilient society.
- Cities are increasingly encouraging urban commuters to avoid driving through better access to bike-sharing fleets, electric scooters, and additional bicycle lanes that more effectively connect people to improved public transportation. In large cities across the world, “congestion pricing” discourages driving, leading to reduced tailpipe emissions
- In September 2018, California’s governor Jerry Brown committed his state to become fully carbon-neutral by 2045. He pledged to reduce and offset carbon emissions by extracting as many greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it emits. California is the world’s fifth-largest economy.
- China runs the world’s largest carbon-trading market. Simply put, the government assigns carbon credits – the amount of carbon emission a company is allowed (the “cap”). Those who emit less than what they’re allotted can sell their credits to companies that exceed their limit (the “trade”).
- In 2018, several global corporate giants signed record-breaking agreements to purchase renewable energy to power their operations. Their demand for clean energy is forcing utility companies to respond. One of the biggest utility companies in the U.S., Xcel Energy Inc, pledged that it would go completely carbon free by 2030.
- The world’s fourth-largest global oil company, Exxon Mobil, supported lobbying efforts to advance the case for carbon tax. It was supported behind the scenes by fifth largest oil company, Shell.
- Catholic organizations in the U.S. stepped up their climate advocacy in 2018 by opposing the Trump administration’s rollback of U.S. environmental regulations. The “Catholic Climate Declaration” stated: “As Catholic communities, organizations, and institutions in the United States, we join with state, tribal, and local governments, as well as businesses, financial institutions, and other faith organizations, to declare that we are still in on actions that meet the climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.” Catholic institutions around the country signed the declaration.
- In November 2018, a pioneering lawsuit by a group of 21 youth activists against the U.S. government finally won the right to a trial. The kids are suing the U.S. government for failing to adequately protect the planet from the impact of climate change.
- In December, diplomats from nearly 200 countries came together in Poland in an attempt to keep the 2015 Paris climate agreement alive. After almost two weeks of negotiations they reached a deal, in which a detailed set of rules was adopted to implement the 2015 agreement. The agreement created a uniform set of standards for measuring climate warming emissions and tracking national climate policies. It also calls on countries to step up their plans to cut carbon emissions ahead of the following round of talks in 2020.
- Ask students their thoughts and feelings in response to these actions.
- What other actions are students familiar with that help combat climate change beyond the individual level?
- Who are the actors taking initiative to promote climate change according to these quotes?
- How might a series of initiatives such as these by different actors be useful?
- How might a series of initiatives such as these by different actors be problematic?
A Closing Reflection
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C is still possible; however, it will require “unprecedented” transitions in all aspects of society, including: the transformation of energy, agricultural, urban and industrial systems; engagement of non-state actors; and integration of climate action into broader public policy and development frameworks.”
And though the agreements and voluntary actions on a local, state, national and international level that we discussed in today’s lesson are important, “ultimately, the world’s success or failure in combating climate change will be determined not by commitments [and voluntary actions], but by concrete action at the national level [everywhere], in partnership with businesses, provinces and cities.”
The IPCC also noted the promise of this moment: “With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.”
- Ask students to share one thought or feeling as they relate what they discussed today to these last quotes from the IPCC.