I decided to carefully sidestep any mention of the causes of global warming until we thoroughly understood the effects.
To get a handle on the effects, we did two projects using a curriculum developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists. (See resources, page 39.) The first involved following links on a world map to learn about scientifically proven signs of rising temperatures. The map is based on measurable data and climate models that predict increased flooding, drought, heat waves, and wild fires, along with more catastrophic weather events. The second had students studying the transmission cycle of tropical diseases and their vectors.
We learned that changes in climate are severely affecting the polar regions. In many parts of the arctic, sea ice has decreased by 50 percent or more. For the first time, scientists have observed open water at the North Pole. The population of penguins in the Antarctic has declined by one third. Large sinkholes have developed in Alaska as permafrost melts and the ground collapses. Glacial ice in Olympic National Park will be gone by 2070 if it continues to melt at the current rate. In tropical Africa, rising temperatures and rainfall have both increased the range, severity, and frequency of tropical diseases such as malaria and schistosomiasis.
I asked students to write about what concerned them most about global warming. As they shared aloud, I wrote down their worries on poster paper hung at the front of the class. The mood was somber. My students sat so still and silent we could hear each other swallow.
I learned that Ryan, who lives for hunting season, worried about elk that will suffer from diminishing alpine environments. Brandon loves penguins and lamented the loss of sea ice. Other students cited enormous wild fires attributable to warmer and drier trends in some parts of the world. Many of them felt deep concern about the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases.