Welcome to the Anthropocene. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, human-caused climate change has impacted the globe with the burning of fossil fuels. The debate in classrooms and the political realm should not be whether climate change is happening or how much it places human civilization at risk but over how societies and individuals should respond. This interdisciplinary book offers an in-depth examination of the history of the Earth’s climate and how historians and citizens can influence contemporary climate debate and activism. The author explains climate history and climate science and makes this important subject matter accessible to a general audience. Chapter topics include examining the Earth’s geological past, the impact of climate on human evolution, the impact of climate on earlier civilizations, climate activism, and the need for international cooperation. Presenting climate history, human history, and climate science in a readable format and featuring resources for students, this book is meant for use by teachers in high school elective or an introductory college course setting.
Chapters include “Our House is on Fire”; Tipping Points; Great Climate Migration; Earth’s Past Climates; Climate Change and Human Evolution; Extreme Heat; Four Billion Years of Climate History; Mass Extinctions; “Clocking” Climate Change; Diseases Carried by Mosquitoes or Hidden in the Ice; Climate Change Deniers and Minimizers; A Short Cold Snap of about 500 Years; Power of Ice; Climate Repercussions; Water Scarcity, Water’s Vengeance; Technology Debate; Saving the Amazon Rainforest; Capitalism vs. the Climate; and Climate Activism. There is an annotated bibliography and a list of resources for teaching about climate change.
New Jersey’s Climate Change Curriculum: An Important First Step for Social Studies Education
by Evan Saperstein and Daniel Saperstein
In a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2021) report, the United Nations (UN) scientific body confirmed what many leading scientists, activists, and public officials have known and warned for years: human activity is responsible for the climate change crisis. The sobering report (drafted by 234 scientists representing 66 nations) is nothing short of a code red, concluding that greenhouse gas (e.g., carbon dioxide, methane) emissions are causing rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves, as well as worsening floods, droughts, and hurricanes (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2021). To stem the tide requires immediate and sustained action across the globe (e.g., through a net zero emissions coalition) (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2021). The UN General Assembly (2015) at large has recognized this dire imperative for years, and other multinational institutions and organizations (e.g., Climate Action Network) have worked tirelessly to bring attention to this heightening threat.
With each passing year, however, the stark consequence of failing to take action has become more painfully evident. Indeed, only three weeks after the release of the IPCC report, Hurricane Ida wreaked havoc in the South and then, to the surprise of forecasters, across much of the Northeast, particularly in New Jersey (Porter & Scolforo, 2021). The torrential downpour and instant flash flooding of streets and homes resulted in swift and seismic destruction (Porter & Scolforo, 2021). In response, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued a state of emergency, and promised grants to help rebuild and guard against future devastation (Arco, 2021; Porter & Scolforo, 2021). And, while touring the aftermath, President Joe Biden (2021) cautioned that: “weather would be more extreme and climate change was here, and we’re living through it now. We don’t have any more time.”
Hurricane Ida is just the latest example of extreme weather events in New Jersey and across the United States (Freedman & Samenow, 2020; Pershing, 2021). Indeed, the United States recently experienced its warmest summer in history (previously set in 1936) (Chow, 2021). In fact, this past decade was the Earth’s warmest to date (and since 2005, there have been the 10 hottest years on record) (Borunda, 2020; Lindsey & Dahlman, 20021; Milman, 2020). In light of these troubling trends, New Jersey has taken steps to address climate change.
For instance, in 2020, Governor Murphy signed the Food Waste Recycling Law to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring large generators of food waste to recycle unused and wasted food (Munoz, 2020). Later that year, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection published the Global Warming Response Act Report, detailing the steps needed to reduce climate pollutant emissions (Barr et al., 2020). This past year, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (2021) also developed its first statewide Climate Change Resilience Strategy. The strategy outlines six overarching priorities: “build resilient and healthy communities,” “strengthen the resilience of New Jersey’s ecosystem,” “promote coordinated governance,” “invest in information and increase public understanding,” “promote climate-informed investments and innovative financing,” and a “coastal resilience plan” (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 2021).
Notably, New Jersey’s climate change initiative and action also has extended to education. Recently, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to add climate change across its K-12 curricular standards (Fallon, 2020; Warren, 2020; Williams, 2020); full implementation will take effect by the following academic year due to delays resulting from the pandemic (New Jersey Department of Education, 2021). Various stakeholders, including K-12 educators and administrators, participated in this historic initiative. New Jersey’s first lady Tammy Murphy helped lead the effort (Warren, 2020), with the goal of providing younger generations “an opportunity to study and understand the climate crisis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary lens” (Cruise, 2020). The first lady cast the initiative as “much more than an added educational requirement; it is a symbol of a partnership between generations” (Cruise, 2020). Governor Murphy himself acknowledged the significance of the curricular standards “to reestablish New Jersey’s role as a leader in the fight against climate change” (Warren, 2020). Former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore also praised the state for its commitment to prepare future leaders able to confront climate change and prescribe solutions (Warren, 2020).
The incorporation of climate change related content into the state’s K-12 curriculum is far-reaching (Fallon, 2020; Warren, 2020; Williams, 2020). The new curriculum will result in material changes to Social Studies, as well as several other content areas of the 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS) ranging from Career Readiness, Life Literacies, and Key Skills to Comprehensive Health and Physical Education; Computer Science and Design Thinking; Science; Visual and Performing Arts; and World Languages.
For Social Studies in particular, climate-related content has been added to U.S. and world history, encompassing economics, geography, civics, government, and human rights (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020e). The social studies standards speak to “leveraging climate change as an area of focus” through “authentic learning experiences” and the “use of disciplinary literacy skills to communicate . . . solutions for change” (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020e, p. 21). This includes “students asking their own questions,” soliciting “diverse points of view,” and “using geospatial technologies to gather data” (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020e, p. 21).
The social studies standards from the New Jersey Department of Education (2020e) set “performance expectations” specific to climate change, including to “evaluate the impact of individual, business, and government decisions and actions on . . . climate change” (p. 66); “assess the efficacy of government policies and agencies in New Jersey and the United States in addressing these decisions” (p. 66); “investigate . . . climate change, its significance, and share information about how it impacts different regions around the world” (p. 86); “develop an action plan . . . related to climate change and share with school and/or community members” (p. 87); and “plan and participate in an advocacy project . . . about the impact of climate change at the local or state level and propose possible solutions” (p. 87). These curricular changes go well beyond Social Studies, as noted above. For Career Readiness, Life Literacies, and Key Skills, climate-related content cuts across topics in creativity and innovation; critical thinking and problem-solving; digital citizenship; global and cultural awareness; and information and media literacy (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020a). Comprehensive Health and Physical Education ties climate-related content with community health services and support (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020b). Computer Science and Design Thinking fuses climate-related content with data and analysis, as well as the effects of technology on the natural world (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020c). For Science, naturally, climate-related content covers earth and human activity, engineering design, and earth’s systems (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020d). For Visual and Performing Arts, climate-related content is part of dance, media arts, theatre, and visual arts (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020f, p. 4). And, for World Languages, climate-related content runs the gamut of interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes of communication (New Jersey Department of Education, 2020g).
Educating the next generation about the effects of climate change is fundamental to the future of social studies education and across disciplines. During the September 2019 global climate strikes, students around the globe (led by Greta Thunberg) left class and took to the streets to protest politicians’ inaction on climate change (Huish, 2021; Sengupta, 2019). While the pandemic served to stall momentum (Berwyn & Erdenesanaa, 2021), youth activists are once again holding in-person (albeit much smaller) protests as part of Thunberg’s Friday for Future movement (Adam & Noack, 2021). But youth activists can only achieve so much on their own, and climate change education is a necessary predicate to prepare the next generation to address this challenge.
New Jersey’s climate change curriculum is a critical first step, and it should become a blueprint for other states in this country as well as other countries abroad. Climate change education will provide students with a baseline of knowledge to understand and confront the negative impacts of this threat. As the NJSLS show, these are interdisciplinary issues that cut across social studies, as well as the sciences and the arts, to name a few. It is imperative that students with varying backgrounds, educational levels, and areas of interest become well-versed in these issues, and take the lessons learned through further education, into their professions, and as part of their lives as citizens.
Yet, New Jersey should not stop with climate change education. New Jersey K-12 schools can and should take the lead in teaching about other critical issues—be they about public health, economic inequality, or social justice. The UN has outlined a number of these global challenges that have become better known as the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), of which climate action is but one. Others include: no poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; life below water; life on land; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and partnerships (United Nations General Assembly, 2015). To groom well-rounded citizens, New Jersey K-12 schools must once again take the reins and incorporate such issues into various content area standards. Students need to learn about the impact of climate change and other global issues to successfully navigate through the many challenges facing today’s world. Given the scope and scale of the risk, the stakes could not be greater.
Huish, R. (2021). Global citizenship amid COVID-19: Why climate change and a pandemic spell the end of international experiential learning. Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 1-18. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2021). AR 6 climate change 2021: The physical Science basis. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/
New Jersey Department of Education. (2020e). 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards – Social Studies. New Jersey Department of Education. (2020f). 2020 New Jersey Student Learning Standards – Visual and Performing Arts.Retrieved from https://www.nj.gov/education/cccs/2020/2020%20NJSLS-VPA.pdf
This show explores how we can prepare the next generation for informed civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and the development of a more just and peaceful world. Host Brett Levy is a researcher of civic and environmental education and an associate professor at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Episodes feature interviews with leaders, innovators, and scholars in civic and environmental education. You’ll hear about new classroom-based and online practices that generate students’ involvement in public issues, youth-adult partnerships that improve communities, what research tells us about how to broaden young people’s engagement in environmental issues, and more. Please subscribe and tell a friend about the show. For information about upcoming episodes, guests, and more, please visit www.esdpodcast.org.
Helping Youth Become Critical News Consumers, with John Silva and Miriam Romais (News Literacy Project)
Contained Risk-Taking in Context: Tradeoffs, Constraints, & Opportunities, with Judy Pace (University of San Francisco)
In The Winds of Change (2007), Eugene Linden suggests that before catastrophic climate changes, the climate in areas experience not prolonged climate change that gradually increases but a flickering of drastic changes. When reading this analysis, I am met with my experiences living in the United Kingdom (UK) as a graduate student. These flickering events I experienced in a year unveiled the effects long-term climate change could have on this region, as the UK infrastructure could not cope with the drastic changes.
These flickering events are “the beast from the east” and the summer heat wave. The beast from the east was a snowstorm in 2018 that resulted from easterly winds from the near continent. According to the met office, “When pressure is high over Scandinavia, the UK tends to experience a polar continental air mass. When this happens in winter, cold air is drawn in from the Eurasian landmass, bringing the cold and wintry conditions that give rise to the ‘Beast from the East’ moniker.” In most parts of Edinburgh, Scotland, the snow was no more than three inches deep, while other parts of Scotland experienced ten-foot to twenty-foot drifts. This caused a massive shutdown of the country. All trains, buses, and schools were canceled across the UK. When speaking to the locals, they said they had not seen a snowstorm to this scale in Scotland before. According to the Washington Post, this has not occurred since March 1979. Edinburgh’s infrastructure could not support three to eight inches of snow, causing tourism and travel to shut down for a week. This flickering during winter continues in 2021, with another beast from the east set to occur this month, plummeting temperatures in the highlands to -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit). At the same time, England goes on red alert to brace the storm. Although these storms show, the impact one can have on travel and tourism. One thing I witnessed first-hand was the food shortage at grocery stores before the storm came. Although this is usual human behavior, “get the milk and bread before the snowstorm,” the grocery stores within the city took two weeks to bounce back. Tesco (a major chain grocery store in the UK) had to shut down for a few days because workers could not get into the store. In addition, there was not much food to sell since trucks that would replenish the shelves were not traveling. It took two whole weeks since the storm hit to stock grocery shelves back to the normal amount. This was only one storm that lasted for 2.5 days, should this flickering stop and cold spells continue, it shows a potential problem for food shortages in major cities.
The flickering episodes and climate change in the summer also continue to be an issue in the United Kingdom. In 2018, the UK experienced a heat wave in which temperatures across the UK rose to 15.8 C (60.4 F), which is 1.5 above average. In mid-august of 2020, the UK continued to experience 30C heat waves longer than a heat wave of 1976, along with higher temperatures than experienced in 2003. These heat waves continue each summer now, indicating that they are more the norm than the exception. These heat waves influence the population and the land where the infrastructure was built for a cool, wet climate. There are no air conditioners in UK buildings, and although an average annual temperature of 60 degrees may not seem warm to a New Yorker, the effect on society showed the issue. During the heat wave, trains shut down within Scotland as many people passed out on the trains due to the heat. The rail services across the UK were at risk of derailment as the tracks had a risk of buckling in the heat. Besides, electric lines could overheat in the temperatures causing them to drop and risk the incoming trains. In a further effect on travel, roads also began to melt due to the heat. This caused an issue within small towns as people attempted to navigate around them. During this period, the heat affected the land so drastically that it revealed lines of scores of archaeological sites across Ireland and the UK, dating back to Neolithic era monuments. Although this is a win for archaeologists, it shows the effects of drought and gorse fires on fertile land.
I focus on the United Kingdom, as I saw the effects on society first-hand while a student, but I also believe it highlights a huge impact a 1.50 C temperature increase can have on society. An average annual temperature of 60.50 F degrees may seem manageable to New York, countries that have not been built to endure drastic changes in temperature for short periods are significantly affected.
Kristen Bradle, Jessica Hermann and Dean Bacigalupo
Rationale: This package was created as a resource to assist educators who are teaching the 9th grade New Jersey World History or 9th and 10th grade New York State Global History and Geography curriculum. The resources and guiding questions are aligned with the New Jersey and New York Learning Standards and the academic skills required on the New York State Global History and Geography Regents examination. The resources highlight the impact of climate change on human societies as an enduring issue that reemerged at different points in history. These resources contain strong transdisciplinary connections between Social Studies, Science, and STEM/STEAM.
The impact of climate change on human societies is one of the most pressing topics affecting the world today. Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is demanding government and corporate action to prevent a climate catastrophe. Goals in designing these materials were to interest students in the past and to engage them as active citizens in the present empowered with historical knowledge.
Human Impact on the Environment: Includes environmental degradation, deforestation, desertification, global warming, destruction of ozone layer, pollution, extinction of species/loss of species, loss of biodiversity, diversion of rivers/water sources, use of alternative energy sources, impact of policies on sustainability, and spread of disease.
Impact of Environment on Humans: Includes impact of climate, impact of natural disasters, and impact of policies designed to deal with natural disasters.
Impact of Technology: Includes consequences of technology use for people and consequences of technology use for the environment. Impact of Industrialization: Includes consequences of industrialization.
Impact of Globalization: Includes consequences of interdependence.
Social Studies Frameworks: The following New York State Frameworks are addressed in this series of climate activity sheets:
CLASSICAL CIVILIZATIONS: EXPANSION, ACHIEVEMENT, DECLINE: Classical civilizations in Eurasia and Mesoamerica employed a variety of methods to expand and maintain control over vast territories. They developed lasting cultural achievements. Both internal and external forces led to the eventual decline of these empires. Geographic factors encouraged and hindered a state’s/empire’s expansion and interactions. Students will investigate how geographic factors encouraged or hindered expansion and interactions within the Greek, Roman, and Mayan civilizations.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL GROWTH AND CONFLICT: During the postclassical era, the growth of transregional empires and the use of trade networks influenced religions and spread disease. These cross-cultural interactions also led to conflict and affected demographic development. Networks of exchange facilitated the spread of disease, which affected social, cultural, economic, and demographic development. Students will map the spread of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) as it was carried westward from Asia to Africa and Europe. Students will evaluate the effects of the Black Death on these regions
CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: Innovations in agriculture, production, and transportation led to the Industrial Revolution, which originated in Western Europe and spread over time to Japan and other regions. This led to major population shifts and transformed economic and social systems.
GLOBALIZATION AND A CHANGING GLOBAL ENVIRONMENT (1990–PRESENT): Technological changes have resulted in a more interconnected world, affecting economic and political relations and in some cases leading to conflict and in others to efforts to cooperate. Globalization and population pressures have led to strains on the environment. Technological changes in communication and transportation systems allow for instantaneous interconnections and new networks of exchange between people and places that have lessened the effects of time and distance. Students will investigate the causes and effects of, and responses to, one infectious disease (e.g., malaria, HIV/AIDS). Population pressures, industrialization, and urbanization have increased demands for limited natural resources and food resources, often straining the environment. Students will examine strains on the environment, such as threats to wildlife and degradation of the physical environment (i.e., desertification, deforestation and pollution) due to population growth, industrialization, and urbanization.
Science and STEM/STEAM Transdisciplinary Connections: The NYS P-12 Science Learning Standards with STEM/STEAM practices and crosscutting concepts guidance document that was referenced to inform connections with middle and high social studies can be found at: http://www.nysed.gov/common/nysed/files/program s/curriculum-instruction/p-12-science-learningstandards.pdf Transdisciplinary connections for middle school include 3 inquiries: Earth’s Systems, Weather and Climate, and Human Impacts can be found on pages 48-50. Transdisciplinary connections for high school include the inquiry focused on Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems and can be found on pages 67-68.
Sample Lesson Introduction Below is a visual Do Now activity that displays the impact and affect climate change has had on the world. This provides students with the evidence and visual understanding that the climate change has resulted drastic changes to our ecosystems. The website below, created by NASA, displays a series of before and after pictures of different climate change “hot spots” around the world. Within these pictures, visible changes, such as rising levels of water can be seen. https://climate.nasa.gov/images-of-change?id=709#709-christmas-tree-harvest-inashe-county-north-carolina
DO NOW: You will examine a series of images on the board, while viewing these images fill out the chart below.
Topic: Old Kingdom Egypt AIM: What environmental change caused the downfall of Old Kingdom Egypt? These documents explore the effect of desertification in the past.
Document 1: Desertification of Egypt “Tomb paintings and inscriptions hint that the environment became more arid toward the end of the Old Kingdom, as some plants disappeared and sand dunes crept close to river settlements. Data drawn from cores in the Nile basin confirm that the climate began to dry around 2200 B.C.” Source: Did Egypt’s Old Kingdom Die—or Simply Fade Away?
Document 3:Desertification of the Sahara “7,300 to 5,500 years ago: Retreating monsoonal rains initiated desiccation in the Egyptian Sahara, prompting humans to move to remaining habitable niches in Sudanese Sahara. The end of the rains and return of desert conditions throughout the Sahara after 5,500 coincides with population return to the Nile Valley and the beginning of pharaonic society . . . The climate change at [10,500 years ago] which turned most of the [3.8 million square mile] large Sahara into a savannah-type environment happened within a few hundred years only, certainly within less than 500 years,” said study team member Stefan Kroepelin of the University of Cologne in Germany.” Source: https://www.livescience.com/4180-saharadesert-lush-populated.html
Document 4:Effects of Drought and Desertification on the Egyptian Empire “When a drought brought famine to the land, there was no longer any meaningful central government to respond to it. The Old Kingdom ended with the 6th Dynasty as no strong ruler came to the throne to lead the people. Local officials took care of their own communities and had no resources, nor felt the responsibility, to help the rest of the country. As the 6th Dynasty passed away, Egypt slowly tumbled into the era now classified by scholars as the First Intermediate Period . . . At the end of the 6th Dynasty, there was no longer a central government of note and Egypt entered a period of social unrest and reformation known as The Frist Intermediate Period (2181-2040 BCE) during which Egypt was ruled regionally by local magistrates who made and enforced their own laws. The rise of these local officials and the power of the priesthood were not the only causes of the collapse of the Old Kingdom, however, in that a severe drought toward the end of the 6th Dynasty brought famine which the government could do nothing to alleviate. Scholars have also pointed to the exceptionally long reign of Pepi II of the 6th Dynasty as a contributing factor because he outlived his successors and left no heir to the throne.” Source: https://www.ancient.eu/Old_Kingdom_of_Egypt/
Questions: The civilizations you examined today made advances in their societies.
How have environmental factors impacted the societies you examined today?
How did the advances civilizations made contribute to environmental consequences?
How have these advances caused a long-lasting impact that is negatively affecting societies today?
Identify a similarity or a difference between the events, ideas, or historical developments presented in documents 1 and 2.
Explain a similarity or a difference in the events, ideas, or historical developments presented in these documents. Be sure to use evidence from both documents 1 and 2 in your response.
Topic: Collapse of Akkadian Empire Aim: What did the Curse of Akkad teach us about the impact of climate on society? These documents examine the effect of drought caused by a changing local environment.
“For some time, researchers attributed the collapse to political disintegration and invasion by hostile groups. Some paleoclimate records indicate that a catastrophic drought also occurred around this time and suggest that climate factors beyond the control of the empire played a role in its demise.” Source: Drought and the Akkadian Empire
“Instead of rain, the Akkadians and their subjects were baked by dry, hot winds from the north. Precipitation fell by 30 percent, and crops withered in the field; the raw wind picked up the topsoil and blew it south. With their surplus dwindling, the fields barren, and laborers consuming what was left, at some point the Akkadians decided the game was up. Many of the Akkadians moved south, likely as word filtered back that the Euphrates, though diminished, continued to flow, supplying irrigation water to the fields there. Some refugees became pastoral nomads, moving with their herds in search of fodder.
Those who remained at Tell Leilan left no trace. As the decades went by, sand and dust gradually entombed the acropolis. When the winds and drought finally abated, some three hundred years later, new settlers moved in.” -Eugene Linden, The Winds of Change
What was “The Curse of Akkad”?
Use specific quotes from the text to explain what happened as a result of the climate change the Akkadian Empire experienced.
How did Akkadians adapt/respond to the changing climate?
Topic: Mayan Civilization Aim: Did consequences of climate change play a significant role in the downfall of the Mayan Civilization? Climate change played a critical role on the collapse of the Mayan Civilization.
Document #1: Chart of Evaporation: Scientists have reconstructed climate at the time of the Mayan civilization by studying lake sediment cores from the Yucatan Peninsula (Hodell et al. 1995; Curtis et al. 1996; Hodell et al. 2005). It is possible to reconstruct changes in the balance between precipitation and evaporation (P−E), a common indicator of drought, by measuring oxygen isotope data from the shells of gastropods and ostracods. Lake H2O molecules containing the isotope 18O evaporate less easily than H2O molecules with 16O. Thus, during periods of strong evaporation, the lake water becomes enriched in 18O (values of δ18O are high). These isotopic values are incorporated into the growing shells of gastropods and ostracods that live in the lake.
Another proxy for P−E is the percent of sulfur in the lake sediments. Evaporation concentrates sulfur in the lake water. If the sulfur concentration becomes high enough, salts such as gypsum (CaSO4) will start to precipitate from the lake water and add sulfur to the lake sediments. The variations of sulfur percentage match the variations in oxygen isotopes closely. Corroborating one paleoclimate proxy with another is an important check on proxy records and gives us more confidence in them.
Document 2: Effects of Deforestation on Mayan Civilization: “Results from simulations with a regional climate model demonstrate that deforestation by the Maya also likely induced warmer, drier, drought‐like conditions. It is therefore hypothesized that the drought conditions devastating the Maya resulted from a combination of natural variability and human activities. Neither the natural drought or the human‐induced effects alone were sufficient to cause the collapse, but the combination created a situation the Maya could not recover from. These results may have sobering implications for the present and future state of climate and water resources in Mesoamerica as ongoing massive deforestation is again occurring.” Source: Oglesby, R. J., T. L. Sever, W. Saturno, D. J. Erickson III, and J. Srikishen (2010). “Collapse of the Maya: Could deforestation have contributed?” J. Geophys. Res., 115, D12106, doi:10.1029/2009JD011942.
“Deforestation led to lower rainfall and higher temperatures; both factors would have been detrimental to Mayan life. The reduction in rainfall means it would have been more difficult for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season, while the warmer conditions put more stress on evaporation, vegetation, livestock, and people. These effects occurred during both the wet and dry seasons but were much larger during the wet season, when they were also arguably more important. This is because the Maya societal structure depended on storage of water during the wet season, which in turn provided for them during the dry season.” Source: AGU Journal
Document 3: Effects of Drought on Mayan Civilization: “Recent data indicate that a major drought at this time may have been a key factor in the collapse. Research along the Holmul River, which runs through several bajos and connects 10 major Maya cities, indicates that between A.D. 750 and 850 the river either dried up or became swampy, perhaps as a result of a long period of drought” [Sever and Irwin, 2003; T. P. Culbert, personal communication, 2002].
Document 4: Reduction of Rainfall and Wetland Formation: Researchers from Arizona State University analyzed archaeological data from across the Yucatan to reach a better understanding of the environmental conditions when the area was abandoned. Around this time, they found, severe reductions in rainfall were coupled with a rapid rate of deforestation, as the Mayans burned and chopped down more and more forest to clear land for agriculture. Interestingly, they also required massive amounts of wood to fuel the fires that cooked the lime plaster for their elaborate constructions—experts estimate it would have taken 20 trees to produce a single square meter of cityscape. Smithsonian magazine Accelerator mass spectrometry dates chart and conceptual model of wetland formation. (Credit: T. Beach et al., University of Texas at Austin)
Document 5: Lake Bottom Sediment Core from Yucatan Peninsula: Bands located on sediment core help indicate periods of drought and periods of rainfall based on the coloring of the bands. Below, is a piece of lake bottom sediment core from the Yucatan Peninsula, displaying periods of drought during the time of the Mayan collapse.
Questions for Mayan Document Series:
How did deforestation and drought play a critical role in the decline and eventual collapse of the Mayan Civilization?
How does science aid historians in understanding important changes in climate that have affected civilizations?
Based on the research presented in this document series, did consequences of climate change play a significant role in the downfall of the Mayan Civilization?
Topic: Roman Empire (27 BC-476 AD) Aim: How did shifts in climate lead to the decline of the Roman Empire? During the establishment and peak of the Roman empire Europe was enduring a period of climate stability. When Rome began experiencing colder, unstable weather, deadly epidemics led to a decline in civilization.
Document 1: Climate Change Background “Climate change did not begin with the exhaust fumes of industrialization, but has been a permanent feature of human existence. Orbital mechanics (small variations in the tilt, spin and eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit) and solar cycles alter the amount and distribution of energy received from the Sun. And volcanic eruptions spew reflective sulphates into the atmosphere, sometimes with long-reaching effects. Modern, anthropogenic climate change is so perilous because it is happening quickly and in conjunction with so many other irreversible changes in the Earth’s biosphere. But climate change per seis nothing new.” Source: Smithsonian
Document 2: How Favorable Climate Led To The Rise of the Roman Empire “It turns out that climate had a major role in the rise and fall of Roman civilization. The empire-builders benefitted from impeccable timing: the characteristic warm, wet and stable weather was conducive to economic productivity in an agrarian society. The benefits of economic growth supported the political and social bargains by which the Roman empire controlled its vast territory. The favorable climate, in ways subtle and profound, was baked into the empire’s innermost structure.” Source: Smithsonian
Document 3: Climate and The Fall of The Roman Empire “The end of this lucky climate regime did not immediately, or in any simple deterministic sense, spell the doom of Rome. Rather, a less favorable climate undermined its power just when the empire was imperiled by more dangerous enemies— Germans, Persians—from without. Climate instability peaked in the sixth century, during the reign of Justinian. Work by dendro-chronologists and ice-core experts points to an enormous spasm of volcanic activity in the 530s and 540s CE, unlike anything else in the past few thousand years. This violent sequence of eruptions triggered what is now called the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age,’ when much colder temperatures endured for at least 150 years. This phase of climate deterioration had decisive effects in Rome’s unravelling. It was also intimately linked to a catastrophe of even greater moment: the outbreak of the first pandemic of bubonic plague.” Source: Smithsonian
Document 4: Levels of Precipitation in the Roman Empire The Fall of the Roman Empire was affected by a period of cooling, known as the Little Ice Age. This period of cooling greatly affected the way people lived. Source: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
Document 5 and 6: Favorable Flooding of the Nile Creating Stable Conditions Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History “Finally, unnoticed until not, Egypt, the Roman Empire’s breadbasket, spears to have enjoyed exceptionally favorable conditions for cereal production during this period . Nile river levels reflect precipitation over Ethiopia and East and Central Africa. Precious study has clarified the history of Nile floods down to 299 A.D., but that abundant evidence has never been exploited for climate history or economic performance. Before Rome annexed Egypt, all seven of nine securely recorded Nile floods in the earlier years of the first century B.C. were below average. For the next 329 years, from the annexation in 30 B.C. to 299 S.D., reliable documents allow an estimate of the annual flood in 199 different years, after which the available data become more scarce until 642 A.D. They show a subtle but significant pattern: The most favorable floods occurred when contrasted with those of the following period.”
Note:Dead Sea: Fluctuating sea levels reflect overall precipitation in the Levant. Although the chronology is fluid, recent work clearly confirms earlier findings of an early and late period of humid conditions, separated and followed by dry conditions Note:Lake Van: Oxygen isotopes within our period indicate most humid conditions c. the first centuries B.C. and A.D. and c. the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., and dry conditions c. the third and seventh centuries.
Document 7: Favorable Conditions During the Roman Empire Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, The Roman Optimum: Stability from C. 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. Exceptional climate stability characterizes the centuries of the Roman Empire’s rise; certain regions enjoyed unusually favorable conditions. In the western Roman Empire, the first century B.C. through the first and possibly second century A.D. were warmer than later centuries. Archaeological evidence from Britain, ice-core date from Greenland, and dendrodata about summer temperature.
Document 8: The Fall of the Roman Empire Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History We synthesize the results for the entire sweep of Roman imperial history in four multi-century phases, distinguishing between the western (approximately -9.34 to 22 degrees) and the eastern (22 degrees to 38.96 degrees) regions of the Empire. The written, archeological, and natural-scientific proxy evidence independently but consistently indicates that climate conditions changed during the period of the Roman Empire’s maximum expansion and final crisis. Rates of change shifted dramatically over time, from apparent near stasis under the early Empire to rapid fluctuations later in the Empire’s history. Changes affected different parts of the Empire in different ways and at different times. Even though the different data sets are not in perfect agreement about absolute dating, they impressively converge about the sequence of events. In each case, the discussion moves from west to east.
Why might an unprecedented period of chilling have major consequences on the Roman Empire?
Why is it important river levels and flooding remain on a set schedule and stay predictable? If they do not, what effects might it have on society?
Was the Roman Empire able to adapt to climate change?
Topic: Collapse of the Norse North Atlantic Network Aim: How did climate change cause the Inuit civilization to prosper and the downfall of the Norse? Climate change can cause one civilization to flourish while it causes another to collapse. Civilizations that are able adapt to climate change may prevail.
Medieval Warming Period 900-1250 A.D. created wealth and prosperity in Europe. During this time the peak expansion of Viking Influence occurred. This warming period caused the growing season to lengthen as population and trade expanded throughout Europe. The Norse first ventured to Iceland starting in 874 when trees were plentiful. From Iceland they traveled to Greenland which had “better land for growing barley than Iceland, as well as birch and willow trees, and meadows to support livestock.” In an attempt to expand their influence some “Norse traders ventured to North America during the 350-year span of the Western Settlement in Greenland” but “Norse ventures in the New World petered out” and the Norse were forced to return to Greenland and Iceland. The weather turning colder due to the Little Ice Age “eliminated the possibility that the Norse would colonize North America.”
“Climate changes, and when it does, it favors some and penalizes others. This is what happened during the Viking Age. Starting between 1343 and 1345, Greenland suffered through ten cold years, culminating in the worst winter in five hundred years in 1355. This led to the collapse of the western colony.” The Norse civilization slowly collapsed and starved as “short cold summers gave the Norse no opportunity to rebuild their flocks and grain supplies. For food, they relied on hunting and gathering as well as farming…and relied on meat and milk to get them through the winter.”
“The Inuit flourished during this same period. The Norse could have survived the bad weather too if they had learned from the Inuit, who love it when the weather turns frigid because it gives them an ice platform from which to hunt ringed seals with harpoons when the mammals surface at breathing holes in the sea ice. Christian Norse likely regarded the shamanistic Inuit as unenlightened and beneath them. The Norse could have adapted Inuit hunting methods and survived the Little Ice Age. Greenland colonies prospered during the warm years and became uninhabitable by agrarian people during the cold years. The Little Ice Age proved absolutely fatal to the Greenland colonies.” – Linden, The Winds of Change
Would the world be different today if the Medieval Warm Period had continued and Greenland settlers had endured? Explain your answer.
Why did the Inuit civilization survive the Little Ice Age while it caused the collapse of the Norse civilization?
Topic: The Fall of the Ancient Khmer Empire 802 CE-1431CE Aim: What does Ancient Khmer infrastructure reveal about their collapse? Through innovation the Khmer Empire tried to decrease the effects of climate instability but ultimately climate change prevailed and led to the fall of the Empire.
“The cause of the Angkor empire’s demise in the early 15th century long remained a mystery. But researchers have now shown that intense monsoon rains that followed a prolonged drought in the region caused widespread damage to the city’s infrastructure, leading to its collapse. From the beginning, water was central to the development of Angkor, which is often described as a “hydraulic city.” Channels and reservoirs were constructed to collect and store water coming from the hills, both for flood control and for distribution for agriculture. A system of overflows and bypasses carried surplus water to the Tonle Sap Lake to the south of the city.
In the mid to late 1300s, Angkor began suffering from a persistent drought. This was followed by several years of unusually strong monsoon rains, producing extensive flooding with which the city’s infrastructure seemed to have been unable to cope. The flooding caused serious erosion in the system, with links in it being systematically severed. To the south of the city, canals were choked with material eroded from the center of Angkor.
The bridge at Angkor Thom was built from reused stone blocks from temples, with many of them carved in intricate ways. That they would take apart a temple and use it for something as mundane as a bridge suggests there is something seriously going wrong. It has long been thought that the damage to the water management system put an end to a long period of decline at Angkor. As the flooding destroyed the infrastructure, the city of Angkor collapsed. In 1431, it was taken by the Siamese army.
How did infrastructure innovations created by the Angkor civilization help their civilization flourish and then aid in the collapse?
What advantages do societies have today for surviving climate change that the Ancient Khmer Empire did not?
Document 1: The Rise of Genghis Khan and The Mongols. “On a research trip to Mongolia in 2010, Pederson, Hessl and their colleagues discovered a stand of stunted Siberian pine trees in the Khangai Mountains. The trees—some of which were still alive—were ancient, some more than 1,100 years old. Old trees provide a living history book of the climate. During warm, wet years, the trees grow more, and the rings inside the trunk that mark those years are wider. The opposite happens during dry years, when the rings would be narrow. Counting back to the late 1100s, just before the rise of Genghis Khan, the tree-ring data indicated that the Mongol steppes had been in the grip of an intense drought, one that could have helped drive the years of division among the Mongol tribes as they competed for scarce resources. But the tree-rings showed that the years between 1211 and 1225—a period of time that coincided with the meteoric rise of Genghis Khan, who died in 1227—were marked by unusually heavy rainfall and mild temperatures.” Source: Time Magazine
Document 2: “The transition from extreme drought to extreme moisture right then strongly suggests that climate played a role in human events. It wasn’t the only thing, but it must have created the ideal conditions for a charismatic leader to emerge out of the chaos, develop an army and concentrate power. Where it’s arid, unusual moisture creates unusual plant productivity, and that translates into horsepower. Genghis was literally able to ride that wave.” Source: PNAS Study, Amy Hessl
Document 3: Tree Ring Moisture: Tree ring moisture indicated the Mongols suffered severe drought and began dealing with a period of moisture when Genghis Khan was able to rise to power. Tree-ring drought reconstruction site (green cross) and inferred temperature site (white cross) are 50 km apart. Map of the Mongol Empire near its zenith (aqua) in 1260 CE. The ancient capital city of Karakorum (black triangle) and current capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar (black star). Source: PNAS
How could change in climate lead to the emergence of a new leader?
Why would climate altering from dry to damp help foster conditions where a civilization is able to thrive?
Do we see a similar trend of unfavorable climate conditions, followed by favorable climate conditions leading to the emergence of powerful leaders elsewhere in history?
Topic: Bubonic Plague Aim: Was the Bubonic Plague pandemic driven by climate change? The Bubonic Plague (1346-1353) was a result of weather effects due to climate change during the Little Ice Age (1303-1860)
Document 1: The Spread of the Black Plague “From 1347 to 1353, a second plague pandemic called the Black Death swept across Europe, killing some 25 million people there and another 25 million in Asia and Africa. But plague is not naturally found in Europe. The disease is endemic to Asia, where the bacterium is found among small animals (rodents) and their fleas. It’s possible the disease was reintroduced to Europe multiple times following Asian climate events. The world was suffering through a second plague pandemic as effects of quick succession of floods and droughts. The rodents likely played a role in moving the disease between harbors. Instances of quarantining ships—a practice developed in the late 14th century in response to the Black Death—could have saved at least a few port towns during the centuries of the second pandemic.” Source: Plague Pandemic May Have Been Driven by Climate, Not Rats
Document 2: The climate causes of the Black Plague “Rapid shifts between warm and cool throw ecosystems out of balance, unleashing pests and microbes, and ruining crops. During the Little Ice Age global temperatures dropped between 0.5 and 1 degree centigrade. Flooding in China’s river valleys “one of the greatest weather-related disasters ever known,” since the floods led to the deaths of roughly 7 million people…made Asia a petri dish for the next iteration of the plague in 1332. The years following saw severe drought, setting up the climate seesaw that would cause the rapid increase and collapse of various rodent populations, both of which could have brought the plague into contact with humans. Weather played a role in releasing the Black Death from China and Mongolia, where it had been bottled up in rodent populations. Before it made its way down the Silk Road to Crimea, the plague killed an estimated 35 million people in China. Then, in about 1346, it began to move west. The plague and other epidemics made several return visits over the next few centuries. All these traumas were direct and indirect effects of the Little Ice Age.” Source: Linden, The Winds of Change
Would the world be different today if the Medieval Warm Period had continued and Greenland settlers had endured? Explain your answer.
Why did the Inuit civilization survive the Little Ice Age while it caused the collapse of the Norse civilization?
Topic: Medieval Europe AIM: How did building Cathedrals during the Middle Ages impact the environment? Deforestation places strains on the environment with major consequences.
Document 1: The Notre Dame Cathedral: The Notre Dame Cathedral was built in Paris, France in 1163. On April 15, 2019 a structure fire broke out under the roof in the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Document 2: “The trees that made up the roof’s wooden structure were cut down around 1160, and some sources estimate that the beams accounted for 13,000 trees, or about 21 hectares of medieval forest, many of which had been growing since the 800s or 900s. “You have a stage in France where deforestation was a problem; these buildings consumed huge amounts of wood.” That’s according to Columbia University art historian Stephen Murray, who spoke with Ars Technica. All that wood, he said, supported an outer roof of lead— until the wood burned and the roof collapsed.” Source: Notre Dame Cathedral will never be the same, but it can be rebuilt
Document 3: “The wooden roof, which burned in the fire, was built with beams over 850 years old, comes from secular forests. Most of the large 12thcentury trees were cut for construction, making them a deciding factor in the current state of the trees on French territory. Another major problem is the large-scale deforestation that was taking place at that time. Many trees have grown since the 7th century, which means that much of the wood destroyed in Dombrand was destroyed 1,300 years ago. For the construction of churches castles and ships needed large quantities of wood, leaving a large part of the wood in French forests as felled.”Source: SUMBER projections for the reconstruction of Notre Dame Cathedral. What the architects say about the lack of a crucial element
Is it possible to rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral roof today replicating its original structure using the same original materials? Explain your answer.
What environmental impact did the construction of the Notre Dame Cathedral have on the environment at the time of its original construction? How did it impact the environment?
Topic: Industrial Revolution AIM: How did the advancements made during the Industrial Revolution impact the environment? The Industrial Revolution started mid-18th century in England. and has had a lasting impact on climate. These documents focus on how new industries produced new problems with pollution, problems that continue today.
Document 2: Political Cartoons
Document 3: “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river… fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollution of a great (and dirty) city.” – Charles Dickens, BLEAK HOUSE. The towns surrounding Manchester . . . re badly and irregularly built with foul courts, lanes, and back alleys, reeking of coal smoke, and especially dingy from the originally bright red brick, turned black with time. These east and north-east sides of Manchester are the only ones on which the bourgeoisie has not built, because ten or eleven months of the year the west and south-west wind drives the smoke of all the factories hither, and that the working-people alone may breathe . . . Along both sides of the stream, which is coal-black, stagnant and foul, stretches a broad belt of factories and working-men’s dwellings . . . The cottages are old, dirty, and of the smallest sort, the streets uneven, fallen into ruts and in part without drains or pavement; masses of refuse, offal and sickening filth lie among standing pools in all directions; the atmosphere is poisoned by the effluvia from these, and laden and darkened by the smoke of a dozen tall factory chimneys. – Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845.
Document 4: “And what cities! … smoke hung over them and filth impregnated them, the elementary public services – water supply, sanitation, street-cleaning, open spaces, and so on – could not keep pace with the mass migration of men into the cities, thus producing, especially after 1830, epidemics of cholera, typhoid and an appalling constant toll of the two great groups of nineteenth century urban killers – air pollution and water pollution or respiratory and intestinal disease.” – Hobsbawm, 1969, p. 86.
What environmental effect did the Industrial Revolution have on England’s environment? Note one environmental effect from political cartoons and one from the excerpts.
What aspect of the Industrial Revolution caused these environmental effects? Explain your answer.
Explain the historical circumstances that caused the environmental effects?
Identify and explain a cause and effect relationship associated with the ideas or events in documents 1 and 2. Be sure to use evidence from both documents 1 and 2 in your response.
Topic: Climate Change and Disease Aim: How did the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia lead to a global pandemic? Natural catastrophic events like a volcanic eruption can had long term widespread consequences.
Environmental Effects “A powerful volcanic eruption in 1815 set off a chain of events, from extreme weather and crop failures to a global cholera pandemic. Mount Tambora erupted on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. It belched millions of tonnes of rock, ash and gas in April 1815, set off a tsunami, and killed about 100,000 people in the immediate aftermath. Then, as sulphur dioxide rose with the ash into the stratosphere and circled the globe, the world was plunged into a volcanic winter that lasted three years. Crops failed in China, Europe and, eventually, America. In New York, it snowed in June. In the Alps, glaciers fingered out at unprecedented speed. Weird as it may seem, the Tambora explosion, unnoticed outside Java, not only unleashed devastating weather, destroying crops and communities around the globe. It also transformed cholera from a local nuisance in Bengal into one of the world’s most virulent and feared diseases.” Source: Relevant lessons from climate change and a global pandemic in the 19th century
“The onset of volcanic winters jeopardized global food security and had climate effects that lasted years. It created a global pandemic that lasted years and hurt the global economy.”
Rise of a New Disease “In 1817, a global cholera pandemic suddenly erupted, a “phantom agent of death that was brutal, unknowable, and potentially limitless in its reach.” From India, a newly virulent strain of cholera spread to Myanmar and Thailand in 1819 and 1820 and Iran in 1822 before reaching France in 1830 and eventually the United States in 1832.” Source: Relevant lessons from climate change and a global pandemic in the 19th century
“Drought brought on by the eruption devastated crop yields across the Indian subcontinent, but more disastrously gave rise to a new and deadly strain of cholera. Cholera had always been endemic to Bengal, but the bizarre weather of 1816–17 triggered by Tambora’s eruption—first drought, then late, unseasonal flooding—altered the microbial ecology of the Bay of Bengal. The cholera bacterium, which has an unusually adaptive genetic structure highly sensitive to changes in its aquatic environment, mutated into a new strain. This was met with no resistance among the local population, and it spread across Asia and eventually the globe. By the century’s end, the death toll from Bengal cholera stood in the tens of millions.” Source: Tambora eruption caused the year without a summer: Cholera, opium, famine, and Arctic exploration.
What climate reactions occurred as a result of the eruption of Mount Tambora?
How did the eruption of Mount Tambora cause the cholera pandemic?
How did the eruption of Mount Tambora affect the world economy
Topic: Water Resources Aim: What will the United States do when the water in the Great Plains is gone? Changing climate is affecting a vast area of the United States. The droughts and shorter growing season taking place in the Great Plains will have dire effects on the population. The main source of water in this area, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being drained and dried. The unstable climate will affect water resources and agriculture in the United States.
“The Plains are made up of a broad range of ecosystems, including forests, rangelands, marshes, and desert. Climate change related impacts, including heat waves and extreme weather events, have disproportionate effects on vulnerable groups, including young, elderly, ill, and low income populations. In the Great Plains, remotely located populations, face greater challenges in responding to climate change because of a lack of development, public health resources, and access to other public services and communication systems. Language barriers for indigenous groups can also impact the ability to respond to climate extremes.” Source: Climate Impacts in the Great Plains | US
“This is the breadbasket of America—the region that supplies at least one fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. If the aquifer goes dry, more than $20 billion worth of food and fiber will vanish from the world’s markets. And scientists say it will take natural processes 6,000 years to refill the reservoir.” Source: The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital U.S. Water Source
Impacts on Water Resources “As patterns of temperature and precipitation change, the Great Plains region is expected to face increased competition for water supplies for use by homes, business, agriculture, and energy production. Water in this region comes largely from the High Plains Aquifer system, made up largely of the Ogallala aquifer. The High Plains Aquifer system is one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world and underlies approximately 111 million acres in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. Nearly 30% of all irrigated lands in the United States reside above this aquifer, making it one of the primary agricultural regions in the nation. The High Plains Aquifer also provides drinking water for more than 80% of the residents living over the aquifer and is key to the region’s energy production. Long-term declines in the water level within the High Plains Aquifer have resulted from greater water discharge than recharge. Discharge (or withdrawal) occurs largely by irrigation, which has resulted in an average water level decline of 14.2 feet since irrigation began around 1950. This translates to an 80 trillion gallon reduction in water storage within the aquifer. Recharge (or replenishing) comes primarily from precipitation. In the northern portion of the Great Plains, rain can recharge the aquifer quickly. However, with climate change, precipitation in the winter and spring is projected to increasingly fall in the form of very heavy precipitation events, which can increase flooding and runoff that reduce water quality and cause soil erosion. In the southern portion of the region, little recharge occurs, so declines in the aquifer’s water level are much greater (see figure of High Plains Aquifer). Climate change will worsen this situation by causing drier conditions and increasing the need for irrigation.”
Topic: Natural Disasters Aim: Can climate change trigger volcanic eruptions? Researchers believe record rainfall attributed to climate change triggered the 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions in Hawaii.
Do Now: Read about the relationship between climate change and rainfall and answer question: How does “human-caused climate change” lead to more intense rainfall? “Human-caused climate change intensifies the heaviest downpours. More than 70% of the planet’s surface is water, and as the world warms, more water evaporates from oceans, lakes, and soils. Every 1°F rise also allows the atmosphere to hold 4% more water vapor. So when weather patterns lead to heavy rain, there is even more moisture available for stronger downpours, increasing the risk and severity of flooding.“– Climate Central, https://www.climatecentral.org/news/report-pouring-it-on-climate-change-intensifies-heavy-rain-events
Instructions: Examine Document A, the abstract from a scientific report in the journal Nature, and Document B, an excerpt from a report on the study published in the British newspaper The Guardian. An important role of the press is to translate technical language into conventional speech. After reading the two documents answer the guiding questions and discuss with our team whether The Guardian report adequately explained the scientific study.
Where is the Kīlauea volcano and when did it erupt?
According to the scientific report, what triggered the eruption?
The scientific report cites “anthropogenic climate change” as a cause of the eruption. Based on context clues, what is “anthropogenic climate change”?
What other evidence is there of volcanic eruptions triggered by intense rainfall?
The headline in The Guardian article is “Record rain triggered 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions, says study.” In your opinion, are the headline and article an accurate summary of the scientific report?
Document A: Extreme rainfall triggered the 2018 rift eruption at Kīlauea Volcano Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586- 020-2172-5 The May 2018 rift intrusion and eruption of Kīlauea Volcano, Hawai‘i, represented one of its most extraordinary eruptive sequences in at least 200 years, yet the trigger mechanism remains elusive. The event was preceded by several months of anomalously high precipitation. It has been proposed that rainfall can modulate shallow volcanic activity, but it remains unknown whether it can have impacts at the greater depths associated with magma transport. Here we show that immediately before and during the eruption, infiltration of rainfall into Kīlauea Volcano’s subsurface increased pore pressure at depths of 1 to 3 kilometres by 0.1 to 1 kilopascals, to its highest pressure in almost 50 years. We propose that weakening and mechanical failure of the edifice was driven by changes in pore pressure within the rift zone, prompting opportunistic dyke intrusion and ultimately facilitating the eruption. A precipitation-induced eruption trigger is consistent with the lack of precursory summit inflation, showing that this intrusion—unlike others—was not caused by the forceful intrusion of new magma into the rift zone. Moreover, statistical analysis of historic eruption occurrence suggests that rainfall patterns contribute substantially to the timing and frequency of Kīlauea’s eruptions and intrusions. Thus, volcanic activity can be modulated by extreme rainfall triggering edifice rock failure — a factor that should be considered when assessing volcanic hazards. Notably, the increasingly extreme weather patterns associated with ongoing anthropogenic climate change could increase the potential for rainfall-triggered volcanic phenomena worldwide.
Document B: Record rain triggered 2018 Kīlauea volcano eruptions, says study https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/22/record-rain-triggered-2018-kilauea-volcanoeruptions-hawaii-study The spectacular eruptions of the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii in 2018 were triggered by extreme rainfall in the preceding months, research suggests. Scientists say the finding raises the possibility that climate breakdown, which is causing more extreme weather, could lead to an increase in eruptions around the world. The 2018 Kīlauea eruptions were one of the most extraordinary sequences in at least 200 years, according to the scientists, with rifts opening, summit explosions and collapses, and a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. But the trigger was not known. However, several months of unusually high rainfall preceded the eruption, with one 24-hour period setting a record for the entire US. This flood of water would have percolated down into fissures and pores in the rocks of the volcano, as far as 1.8 miles (2.9km) below the surface. The scientists calculated this pushed up the pore pressure inside the rocks to the highest level in almost 50 years, weakening them and allowing magma to push up from below. The scientists also looked at eruptions of Kīlauea since 1790 and found that these historical events were twice as likely to happen in the rainy season. Such a link has long been thought possible – JD Dana, one of the first geologists to visit Hawaii in the late 1800s, suggested the idea. They also ruled out magma pressure from below triggering the eruption, because the surface had barely deformed, and the gravitational pull of the sun and moon, which can trigger eruptions. “All the circumstantial evidence points in the same direction,” said Jamie Farquharson, at the University of Miami, whose research is published in the journal Nature. Rain has been linked to shallow eruptions in the past, such as at Mount St Helens in 1980, but this is the first time an impact at depth has been found.
Topic: Impact of Current Climate Change Aim: How does climate change threaten the future of Kenya? Climate change severely impacts Kenya. Kenya is dealing with erratic rainfall, extreme drought, and an increase in temperatures. Kenya is in extreme need of global action to help combat the challenges climate change brings to their everyday life.
Document 1: Projections of Kenya’s Future Source: United States Agency of International Development
Document 3: Historic Climate vs. Future Climate Projections (U.S. Agency of International Development)
Document 4: Effect of all Aspects of Life (U.S. Agency of International Development
Document 5: Primary Source Information: The Children of Kenya (Source: UNICEF) “Our home was destroyed by the floods and we have nothing left. My parents cannot even afford to pay my older siblings’ school fees since we have no cows left to sell.”-Nixon Bwire, age 13, Tana River.
“Climate change is affecting us and, in the future if we are not involved, we will live in a desert. The rivers have dried up and sand mining has increased, this has caused many children to drop out of school to work loading vehicles for mines”-Samuel, age 14, Machakos
Idhila Mohammed carries her child on her back as she searches for food and water for her surviving cattle. “We had 180 cattle last year, but since the drought only 40 are left,” she said. “In the few years that I’ve been here, the climate has really changed. Temperatures have gone up. The rainfall has dropped. As time goes by, things are getting worse and worse … It rains once in three months, that’s not normal. This has led to shortage of food and water, which has led to the death of animals. People lose their livestock and other people die due to starvation and hunger.” Lourine Oyodah, age 15, Lodwar
Document 7: Documented Changes from 1967- 2012 (Source: Human Rights Watch) Between 1967 and 2012, maximum and minimum average temperatures in Turkana County, in Kenya’s northwest corner near the border with Ethiopia, rose between 2 and 3°C (3.6 to 5.4°F), according to data from the meteorological station in Turkana’s capital. Rainfall patterns seem to have changed, with the long rainy season becoming shorter and drier and the short rainy season becoming longer and wetter. Insecurity and conflict in the region are expected to get worse as grazing lands decrease.
At the same time, hydroelectric projects and irrigated sugar plantations in Ethiopia’s lower Omo River Valley threaten to vastly reduce the water levels in Lake Turkana, the world largest desert lake, and the source of livelihood for 300,000 Turkana residents. Some experts forecast that the lake may recede into two small pools, devastating fish stocks.
Document 8: Conditions in Kenya (Source: Kenya Climate Innovation) For instance, the flooding in Naivasha, Kenya after the Karati River burst its banks caused 172 fatalities, displaced 283,290 people and left 84 people with severe injuries. Government data also shows that in the Tana River alone, 150,000 people have been displaced and 16 killed due to flooding. Furthermore, flooding is related to food scarcity fueled by decreased yields. The drought has also lead to decreased power and water supply to cities in Kenya, including Nairobi. One of the areas that has negatively been impacted by climate change is agriculture, which supports 75% of Kenya’s population and contributes to 21% of the country’s GDP. Given its high reliance on rainfall, it is adversely impacted by drought. For instance, prolonged drought in 2016/2017 yielded low agricultural productivity that resulted in food prices increasing by a third.
What major changes in climate has Kenya had to deal with?
How has climate change affected Kenya?
Have climate conditions improved and are conditions projected to improve? What do the climate projections suggest?
Do the United States and other economically advanced nations have a responsibility to provide aid to Kenya? Explain.
Topic: Climate Change Impact on Sub-Sahara Desert Aim: How is climate change affecting regions bordering the Sahara Desert? Climate change in sub-Sahara arid regions has led to an increase in temperature, changes in rainfall levels, an increase in sea level, desertification, deforestation and the emergence of new diseases that will seriously impact human life, both in the area and globally.
Document 1: Climate Changes and Impacts Source: Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions.
Document 2: Rising Sea Levels Source: Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions
Document 3: Is Africa sleepwalking into a potential catastrophe? Source: BBC. The African continent will be hardest hit by climate change. There are four key reasons for this: First, African society is very closely coupled with the climate system; hundreds of millions of people depend on rainfall to grow their food Second, the African climate system is controlled by an extremely complex mix of large-scale weather systems, many from distant parts of the planet and, in comparison with almost all other inhabited regions, is vastly understudied. It is therefore capable of all sorts of surprises Third, the degree of expected climate change is large. The two most extensive land-based end of-century projected decreases in rainfall anywhere on the planet occur over Africa; one over North Africa and the other over southern Africa Finally, the capacity for adaptation to climate change is low; poverty equates to reduced choice at the individual level while governance generally fails to prioritize and act on climate change
Document 4: Deforestation in Sub-Saharan Africa: At the end of 1990, Africa had an estimated 528 million hectares, or 30 percent of the world’s tropical forests. In several Sub-Saharan African countries, the rate of deforestation exceeded the global annual average of 0.8 percent. While deforestation in other parts of the world is mainly caused by commercial logging or cattle ranching the leading causes in Africa are associated with human activity. Developing countries rely heavily on wood fuel, the major energy source for cooking and heating. In Africa, the statistics are striking: an estimated 90 percent of the entire continent’s population uses fuelwood for cooking, and in SubSaharan Africa, firewood and brush supply approximately 52 percent of all energy sources. Source: African Technology Forum
Document 5: Deforestation: It is difficult to imagine that such vast ancient woodlands are at risk of extinction. But they are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), indigenous (also known as “old-growth”) forests in Africa are being cut down at a rate of more than 4 mn hectares per year — twice the world’s deforestation average. According to the FAO, losses totalled more than 10 percent of the continent’s total forest cover between 1980 and 1995 alone. Source: “Saving Africa’s Forests, ‘The Lungs of The World’ by Michael Fleshman.
Document 6: Desertification: Desertification is defined as the persistent degradation of dryland ecosystems by climatic variations and human activities. Simply put, desertification is the process by which fertile lands become deserts, typically because of drought, deforestation or inappropriate agriculture. Desertification affects up to 30 percent of land worldwide, and 1.5 billion people around the world depend on land at risk from desertification for their main source of food or income. Seventy-four percent of these people already live in poverty.
In sub-Saharan Africa, desertification may force up to 50 million people to flee their homes by 2020. Since 1923, the Sahara Desert has expanded by 10 percent, especially affecting people living in the Sahel region. Dryland covers 65 percent of the African continent, and 70 to 80 percent of people in Ethiopia and Kenya are threatened by desertification. Source: The Borgen Project
Document 7: Desertification:Desertification is most severe in Africa. Arid lands account for two-thirds of the African continent, and three-quarters of the continent’s drylands that are used for agriculture have already begun to lose productivity. A total of 45 percent of Africa’s population lives in drylands that are susceptible to desertification, according to the United Nations Development Program’s Drylands Population Assessment II. In Kenya, a three-year drought has withered crops and killed livestock, leaving thousands of people without adequate food supplies. Two-thirds of the country’s land has been severely affected by the drought, and over 40 percent of Kenya’s cattle and up to 20 percent of its sheep and goats have perished, according to the Arid Lands Resource Management Project, a government initiative. In neighboring Tanzania, widespread tree felling threatens to transform much of the country’s forest into desert. In early January, Vice President Omar Ali Juma called attention to the worsening problem, noting that the country is losing between 320,000 and 1.2 million acres of forest land each year to the expansion of agricultural lands and to increased demand for fuelwood. Livestock herders also contribute to the deterioration of Tanzania’s forests by moving their herds from arid areas in the north to the vegetation- and water-rich forests of the south.
What climate problems are affecting Africa?
Why are deforestation and desertification threatening the survival of sub-Saharan Africa?
How can deforestation and desertification in Africa be prevented
Topic: Pandemics Aim: How does the world’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic illustrate about the possibilities for responding to climate change? The response to the Corona Virus pandemic led to an unintended decrease in human causes of climate change.
“Levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops as coronavirus impacts work and travel.
“Traffic levels in the [New York] city were estimated to be down 35% compared with a year ago. Emissions of carbon monoxide, mainly due to cars and trucks, have fallen by around 50% for a couple of days this week according to researchers at Columbia University. They have also found that there was a 5-10% drop in CO2 over New York and a solid drop in methane as well.”
In Los Angeles, New York, Manila and Milan, the skies clear as air pollution drops. In Venice, the canal water is clear enough to see fish, and dolphins are returning. What would the world be like if we decided to pursue this trend?
What response to climate change did the coronavirus cause globally?
How did this pandemic lessen the effects of climate change?
As countries plan to restart their economies, what are some changes they should consider in light of unintended consequences of quarantine?
East Africa Confronts New Climate Change Plague Aim: How has climate change caused the worst Desert Locust in over seventy years in the Horn of Africa? Rising numbers of Desert Locusts in East Africa are a threat to food security and livelihood. Kenya is experiencing the worst Desert Locust infestation in over seventy years.
Document 1: Desert Locusts. “The eighth plague that the Judaic God launched against the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Old Testament story of Exodus was swarms of locust. The locust covered the sun and devoured everything green in the fields. This immense locust swarm is a direct result of global warming and climate change. Warming of the Indian Ocean produced record heavy rainfall in the region from October through December, accelerating the breeding and growth of the desert locust. Source: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2020/3/5/1924511/-World-Confronts-New-Climate-Change-Plagues
Document 2: Effects of Desert Locusts. “Kenya is battling its worst desert locust outbreak in 70 years, and the infestation has spread through much of the eastern part of the continent and the Horn of Africa, razing pasture and croplands in Somalia and Ethiopia and sweeping into South Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania. The highly mobile creatures can travel over 80 miles a day. Their swarms, which can contain as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometer, eat the same amount of food daily as about 35,000 people.” Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/world/africa/locusts-kenya-eastafrica.html?searchResultPosition=1
Document 3: “Rising numbers of Desert Locusts present an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. It is the worst outbreak of Desert Locusts seen in the region for decades. Tens of thousands of hectares of croplands and pasture have been damaged in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with potentially severe consequences in a region where 11.9 million people are already food insecure. The potential for destruction is enormous.” Rising temperatures also mean locusts can mature more quickly and spread to higher elevation environments. Given that many locusts are adapted to arid regions, if climate change expands the geographic extent of these lands, locusts could expand their range as well. “Therefore, in general, locust outbreaks are expected to become more frequent and severe under climate change,” said Arianne Cease, director of the Global Locust Initiative at Arizona State University. Source: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1258877/icode/
How has climate changed caused faster breeding and growth of Desert Locust?
How have increased swarms of Desert Locust devastated life in Kenya?
Topic: Climate Change Aim: Can the world reverse global warming? “Socratic Seminar CRQ “Task: Have students seating arranged to participate in a Socratic Seminar Using specific details from each document, students should discuss:
What is the goal of each author?
How do youth become important in affecting change?
If you had Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Greta Thunberg over for a dinner party- what would they say to each other? What would they say to you? (Think about each person’s goals, methods, areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, etc.)
Informed Action/Extension activities: Donald Trump (Republican) and Joseph Biden (Democrat) will need to present a plan to address climate change as they try to appeal to American voters. Research each candidate’s policy proposals/actions on climate change and prepare a graphic organizer to illustrate these with you class. What policy proposals and decisions do you agree with? Disagree with?
“My message is that we’ll be watching you.” “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
Who is Greta addressing in this speech? Who are “us” that Greta is referring to?
You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe. “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. “Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. “So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences. “To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons. “How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than 8 1/2 years. “There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is. “You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you. “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
Why does Greta think current climate change initiatives will fail? “And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is” What is ironic about this statement? What “change” is Greta alluding to?
Document I: Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in New York City on September 23, 2019. Here’s the full transcript of Thunberg’s speech, beginning with her response to a question about the message she has for world leaders.
Questions 1) In your opinion, was Greta Thunberg’s speech effective in moving young people to take action against climate change? 2) What part(s) of Greta’s speech had the strongest impact? Why? 3) Greta Thunberg was 16 years old when she delivered this speech to the United Nations. Does this fact make her speech more or less powerful? Explain.
Document 2: Statement by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Youth Leadership Conference, April 15, 1960 Background: Over two hundred student and adult activists gathered at Shaw University for an Easter weekend youth conference to discuss the growing sit-in movement. King issued this statement at a press conference on the opening day of the meeting. The following day, King addressed a mass meeting at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. During the three-day conference, youth leaders voted to create the Temporary Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)
This is an era of offensive on the part of oppressed people. All peoples deprived of dignity and freedom are on the march on every continent throughout the world. The student sit-in movement represents just such an offensive in the history of the Negro peoples’ struggle for freedom. The students have taken the struggle for justice into their own strong hands. In less than two months more Negro freedom fighters have revealed to the nation and the world their determination and courage than has occurred in many years. They have embraced a philosophy of mass direct nonviolent action. They are moving away from tactics which are suitable merely for gradual and long-term change.
Today the leaders of the sit-in movement are assembled here from ten states and some forty communities to evaluate these recent sit-ins and to chart future goals. They realize that they must now evolve a strategy for victory. Some elements which suggest themselves for discussion are:
1) The need for some type of continuing organization. Those who oppose justice are well organized. To win out the student movement must be organized. 2) The students must consider calling for a nation-wide campaign of “selective buying.” Such a program is a moral act. It is a moral necessity to select, to buy from these agencies, these stores, and businesses where one can buy with dignity and self-respect. It is immoral to spend one’s money where one cannot be treated with respect. 3) The students must seriously consider training a group of volunteers who will willingly go to jail rather than pay bail or fines. This courageous willingness to go to jail may well be the thing to awaken the dozing conscience of many of our white brothers. We are in an era in which a prison term for a freedom struggle is a badge of honor. 4) The youth must take the freedom struggle into every community in the South without exception. The struggle must be spread into every nook and cranny. Inevitably this broadening of the struggle and the determination which it represents will arouse vocal and vigorous support and place pressures on the federal government that will compel its intervention. 5) The students will certainly want to delve deeper into the philosophy of nonviolence. It must be made palpably clear that resistance and nonviolence are not in themselves good. There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may indeed become a new kind of violence.
What was the purpose of “sit-ins” of the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement? Why was it important for students to become involved?
What is a climate strike?
What are similarities and differences between the climate strikes of today and the sit-ins of the 1960’s?
Document 3: American Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431-433 Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court. Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected. Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe. Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act. Approved, June 8, 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law on June 8, 1906.
Read the following quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt. Choose one of these quotes. For this quote:
Define the historical context behind President Roosevelt’s words.
Explain and give examples of how the Antiquities Act (1906) could be used to improve the situation(s) Roosevelt brings attention to.
Quote #1: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Quote #2:“But we are, as a whole, still in that low state of civilization where we do not understand that it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals— not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.”
Socratic Seminar CRQ “Task: Have students seating arranged to participate in a Socratic Seminar. Using specific details from each document, students should discuss: 1) What is the goal of each author? 2) How do youth become important in affecting change? If you had Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Greta Thunberg over for a dinner party what would they say to each other? What would they say to you? (Think about each person’s goals, methods, areas of agreement, areas of disagreement, etc.)
Informed Action/Extension activities: 1) Donald Trump (Republican) and Joseph Biden (Democrat) will need to present a plan to address climate change as they try to appeal to American voters. Research each candidate’s policy proposals/actions on climate change and prepare a graphic organizer to illustrate these with your class. What policy proposals and decisions do you agree with? Disagree with?
2) A great project is launching a Climate Emergency Campaign in your community. The Climate Emergency Campaign asks local governments to declare a climate emergency. Students can lobby school boards to mandate teaching how climate change threatens local communities and human civilization. In 2017, Hoboken, New Jersey was the first city in the United States and the third city in the world to declare a Climate Emergency. Hoboken is located on the Hudson River flood plain and suffered serious damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Climate Mobilization website has a sample Climate Emergency resolution.
Jiwon Kim and Christine Grabowski Monmouth University
We live in one world. What we do affects others, and what others do affects us, now more than ever. To recognize that we are all members of a world community and that we all have responsibilities to each other is not romantic rhetoric, but modern economic and social reality (McNulty, Davies, and Maddoux, 2010). If our neighborhoods and nations are both affecting and being affected by the world, then our political consciousness must be world-minded (Merryfield and Duty, 2008). A sense of global mindedness or global awareness must also be promoted in elementary school, but many educators still find it challenging. The purpose of this article is to explore how we engage elementary students in learning global issues and to examine how introducing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to the elementary classroom helps young students develop their interest and understanding of current issues in the world and become active citizens.
Citizenship Education and the United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals
globalization suggests that new forms of democratic citizenship and politics
are emerging (Andreotti, 2011; Davies, 2006; Gaudelli, 2016; Myers,
2006; Oxley & Morris, 2010; Parker, 2011; Schattle, 2008), and this demands
critical and active global citizenship education. As Myers
(2006) indicates, however, “while
a global perspective is often incorporated into the curriculum and courses, the
concept of global citizenship, suggesting a commitment and responsibility to
the global community based in human rights, is less coherent” (p. 389).
Citizenship is a
verb – learning about our nation and the world, thinking about dilemmas of
equality and equity, and acting on issues of collective concern (Boyle-Base and
Zevin, 2009). Therefore, Global citizenship relates to important concepts such
as awareness, responsibility, participation, cross-cultural empathy,
international mobility, and achievement (Schattle, 2008). From this perspective, global education
should be global citizenship education. Understanding and concern for such
issues should lead to action, and local, state, and global studies should be
used as a “springboard for deliberation, problem-solving, and community action”
(Boyle-Base, et al. 2011). Boyle-Base and Zevin (2009) propose a three-part
framework of citizenship: Young citizens of the world (and their teachers)
should be informed, reflective, and active. This model means (1) becoming
informed (about ideas, events, and issues); (2) thinking it through (presenting
fair and balanced views), and (3) taking action (teaching deliberation,
decision-making, and civic action) (Boyle-Base, et al., 2011).
We adopted this
model in order to engage elementary students in global issues, by introducing
the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) to an elementary
classroom. The Model United Nations is well known with many students
participating in this program, but few realize that the UN SDGs are designed to
educate our society and transform the world.
SDGs, officially known as ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development’ is a set of 17 Global Goals around world issues. On
September 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2016, the Paris Agreement on
climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of
global temperatures. Governments, businesses, and civil society together with
the United Nations, are mobilizing efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development
Agenda by 2030. Universal, inclusive and indivisible, the agenda calls for
action by all countries to improve the lives of people everywhere. Each goal
has specific targets to be achieved. The 17 goals are as follows:
The UN and UNESCO
explicitly support these goals and resources that are useful materials for
global citizenship education. While global citizenship is geared towards older
students, there are many ways that elementary school teachers can apply these
goals and resources within their classroom. For example, the World’s Largest
Lesson, which is a website created in partnership with UNICEF and UNESCO, introduces the
Sustainable Development Goals to children and young people everywhere and
unites them in action through various projects. If educators are planning an
assembly or a lesson to introduce the Global Goals, there are a lot of
resources listed on the website and educators can choose them based on the
specific goal (http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/). These resources include
training courses, activities, books, films, games, lesson plans for each grade
level, decorations and posters, as well as support for students’ action and
change project. Materials are available in English and nine other languages. Students
can share their work online and help create a map of the world, for instance,
that reflects why Goal 5, Gender Equality, is so relevant worldwide today.
Mrs. G, an
elementary school teacher leads a multi grade third and fourth grade class of
sixteen students. This unique style of teaching embodies project-based learning
with one to one Chromebooks for the students.
They are not seated at traditional desks; instead students are seated at
whiteboard tables with rolling chairs for flexible collaboration and learning.
Self-driven students who take initiative in their own learning, had become
integral parts of how this exciting project about the UN SDGs had grown and
The UN SDGs
lessons started out as requirement for the preservice teachers of Monmouth
University that were presented in the third and fourth grade classroom. As the
interest piqued in the classroom, Mrs. G decided to capitalize on students’
enthusiasm and design classroom activities to address the UN SDGs at their
developmental level. The goal was for the students to become more globally
aware about issues in the world, while honing their reading, writing, research,
and presentation skills. This unit project addressed multiple NCSS standards
and C3 Framework.
Table 1: Social
Studies Standards Addressed in This Unit Project
Social Studies Standards Addressed in This Unit Project
2. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ENVIRONEMNTS
3. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT AND IDENTITY
4. INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND INSTITUTIONS
5. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND GOVERNANCE
6. PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND CONSUMPTION
7. GLOBAL CONNECTION
8. CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES
D1.2.3-5. Identify disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are open to different interpretations. D2.Civ.2.3-5. Explain how a democracy relies on people’s responsible participation, and draw implications for how individuals should participate. D2.Civ.6.3-5. Describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, workplaces, voluntary organizations, and families. D2.Civ.7.3-5. Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school settings. D2.Civ.10.3-5. Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic issues. D2.Soc.3.9-12. Identify how social context influences individuals. D2.Soc.6.9-12. Identify the major components of culture. D2.Soc.7.9-12. Cite examples of how culture influences the individuals in it. D2.Soc.13.9-12. Identify characteristics of groups, as well as the effects groups have on individuals and society, and the effects of individuals and societies on groups. D2.Soc.16.9-12. Interpret the effects of inequality on groups and individuals. D2.Soc.18.9-12. Propose and evaluate alternative responses to inequality. D4.3.3-5. Present a summary of arguments and explanations to others outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, and reports) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary) D4.6.3-5. Draw on disciplinary concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and opportunities they have created, in addressing local, regional, and global problems at various times and places. D4.7.3-5.Explain different strategies and approaches students and others could take in working alone and together to address local, regional, and global problems, and predict possible results of their actions. D4.8.3-5. Use a range of deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on civic problems in their classrooms and schools.
This was accomplished through a multifaceted project that
included learning about the UN Sustainable Development Goals through reading,
research, presenting a goal, and sharing. Additionally, there was discussing
information through a class blog, and leading and participating in service
projects. This project continued in the successive school year due to the
success and interest in the project.
Part I: Becoming Informed
While introducing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, one
challenge was to ensure that elementary students could understand these complex
concepts. In the beginning, students were introduced to two brief videos that
gave an overview of the UN Goals in terminology that was easier for them to
understand. Next, each of the sixteen students was assigned one of the goals to
research in depth. They were given a rubric with specific items that needed to
be included in their presentation. The students were required to include: the
name of the goal, the definition of the goal, why the goal is important, and
three interesting facts.
The next step was to research the goals to truly understand
the meaning, decide why it would be an important goal for citizens to be aware
of and potentially take action. The UN website offers articles, video clips,
facts and a plethora of additional information about the goals, but can be
difficult for elementary students at various reading levels. The
paraprofessional and teacher engaged individual conferences for each student to
ensure that there was an understanding of what the student was reading, as well
as recommendations of particular parts of the site to focus on for their
research. The seventeenth goal, which was not assigned to a student, was
completed together as a group. Using the classroom SMART board, Mrs. G led the
class in modeling how to find appropriate research, navigate the United Nations
website, and make decisions about information that was pertinent to present on
the visual document.
To further develop their reading and research skills, Mrs. G
used Newsela, a large database of current events articles that are written at
specific Lexile levels. Articles that related to the UN Goals were assigned to
the students. They decided which articles to read to assist in gaining more
knowledge and understanding of their specific goal. This platform worked well,
because it is tailored to the student’s independent reading level, which aids
in comprehension of the material. Some students worked with partners to help
mitigate difficulties in reading articles and participated in discussions
together, in order to better understand the topic of study. Individual
conferences with partners and the teacher or paraprofessional were essential in
supporting the students in tackling very advanced concepts. Goal 9- Industry, Innovation, and
Infrastructure was an especially challenging concept for a young elementary
student and required a good deal of discussion with the teacher to ensure
understanding of a complicated topic.
Reading informational text in social studies is the perfect
way to enhance learning. However, when the vocabulary and content was above
level for many of the students involved in the project, the teacher and
paraprofessional met individually to read with students to ensure comprehension
of the literature regarding the goals on the UN website. This one on one time
was helpful in making sure the elementary school students understood their
goal, and were equipped with the knowledge to become experts and explain it to
Part II: Thinking It Through
Sharing and Discussing Information about the Goals
Next the students created a visual product to communicate
the required information about their goal using what they have learned through
reading and researching their assigned goal. The students created posters in
the first year when the project was implemented, and in the next year they used
Google Slides to present information about the goal. The expectations on the
rubric were the same for both the poster and the digital presentation.
Table 2: UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric
Please include the following
on your slide:
Name of goal
Definition of goal
3 Interesting facts
UN SDGs Google Slides Rubric
Name & Definition
The correct name and an accurate definition is present
The name or definition may be correct
The name and definition are not correct
A clear and accurate explanation of why the goal is important in the world
Attempts to write an explanation of why the goal is important in the word. May have some ideas that are correct
Does not include why it is important or it does not make sense
3 Interesting Facts
3 appropriate facts about the topic are present
3 facts that are not relevant or just 2 facts are present
Did not include three facts
Design of Slide
The pictures and design are related to and represent the goal. Is well organized
The pictures make an attempt to represent the goal. Shows some organization
The design does not relate to the goal, is disorganized
The students reflected upon their presentations and
completed the rubric self-assessing their work. The expectation was to either
draw or find photos that represented the theme of the goal. When making
posters, the required information was verbally presented in a recording that
eventually was combined with other students using the DoInk app. They used the
green screen to record and uploaded the recordings to the app to create a
video. The other option was to use a shared Google Slides presentation where each
student created one slide to represent their goal and provided the required
Each student took a turn presenting their visual poster or
Google Slide to explain and teach the class about their specific goal. They
utilized speaking and listening skills to effectively communicate the
information that they researched and engaged in question and answers from their
classmates. Mrs. G could also further assess their learning by observing how
well they could answer questions about their assigned goal.
through Blog Session
Next, the students participated in blog sessions to further
discuss the goals, their thoughts and opinions.
The blog is an effective tool and another way of assessing the students’
critical thinking skills, knowledge of content, and how they communicate.
Google Classroom has a feature to “Create a Question” that allows students to
respond to each other. These questions were posed to the sessions:
List your goal and write an
interesting fact that you learned about your goal.
Explain something that surprised you
about the goals. Why did it surprise you?
What can you do to help achieve the
The explanation of something surprising from the students
was enlightening in providing a student perspective at their developmental
level. The following is a sample entry with responses:
1. My goal is
Quality Education. One interesting fact about my goal is more than half of
children that have not enrolled in school live in sub Saharan-Africa.
surprising I learned from this lesson is that, Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and
Institutions is that people all over the world do not have the freedom of
speech for their rights. I feel that is devastating to live under rules that
are hardly even thought about just made a law. They live under circumstances
that are very sad, and that is very careless of people.
3. To help these
goals we need to supply things that are needed. Americans can provide books all
over the world for Quality Education, We can provide vaccines to needed, we can
give food and vitamins needed to people in need.
Student “C”: Also, for every 100 boys enrolled in school
in Sub-Saharan Africa, there’s only 74 girls!
Student “A”: Where
is Saharan-Africa? What is it?
Student “J”: Who tells them that they can’t go to school
and why don’t they?
Student “O”: Saharan is basically all the countries of
Africa except the three at the top.
Student “O”: They can’t’ go to school because some people
(dictators, presidents, kings or queens) think that school is a waste of time.
They rather kids go and work the fields and harvest crops
Student “J”: Thanks for the answer
Student “S”: It is very sad that people don’t get to go
to school, but at the same time it might be fun to not go to school for a
couple of days but never going to school would be hard. But everybody needs
Student “C”: It’s not fun. The reason they avoid school
is to make the kids do work. And they have to work on the fields, harvesting,
growing, and taking care of crops ALL DAY, until night!
Student “E”: How many
school houses are in Africa?
Student “O”: Would it really be fun not to be able to
read, write, and say the right words in a sentence? What would you do if you
couldn’t read or anything? Would you ask your mom to teach you? What if you
don’t have a mom? Put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Student “C”: It wouldn’t be fun at all not to be able to
read or write. If we couldn’t read or write, we couldn’t blog now!
Reading the responses of
the students allowed Mrs. G to capture a conversation that the students might
have in a group discussion in the classroom. It was determined that
Student “O” understood that students in Africa and other parts of the world do
not have the same opportunity for education that children in the United States
are afforded. The student expressed empathy for children who cannot
attend school, and Student “C” even responds stating that they would not be
able to blog if they did not have an education.
When the students blogged, there was silence in the classroom because
they were all actively engaged using the technology in a meaningful manner.
Mrs. G expected the students to answer the three questions and then
thoughtfully responded to at least five students in the class with comments and
insight. She accessed all of this and could comment on Google Classroom to
leave feedback for students. The use of
technology like Google Classroom allowed the class activity to become more
student-focused. By assigning students different UN goals, the students were
able to take ownership of their own topic and became the class expert who is
accountable for discussion on the goal. This enabled the teachers to see the
student’s ability to comprehend the UN goals as well as to apply that knowledge
gained to form a discussion with their fellow peers. This deliberation process
helped students think about higher-order thinking questions beyond immediately
noticeable facts. Students sometimes left with some simplistic and
self-oriented/US-centric views of the world. Therefore, it was important for
Mrs. G. to capture a troubled conversation and follow up as a group discussion
in the classroom.
Part III: Taking Action
Leading and Participating in Service
Each year of
implementation of this project has led to the students taking action to address
the UN SDGs. In the first year, the class was saddened and upset to see the
prevalence of poverty and hunger in the world. Through a class discussion, they
decided to take action and have a food drive to support a local food pantry.
Mrs. G led a discussion on local organizations that helped the poor, and
ultimately the students decided to support St. Vincent de Paul Pantry at a
church that some students attend. They gathered information from the church
bulletin, organized a collection based on the pantry’s needs, created flyers
and made announcements daily to the school promoting the food drive and giving
the school community facts about hunger and poverty. The students used Google
Sheets to collect data and provided updates to the school community about the
number of items collected. The young learners took ownership of the whole
project and completed it to its final steps of packing the donations and
sending thank you notes to the St. Vincent de Paul members for their service to
the poor. The class felt proud of themselves for spearheading this project that
would align with the UN SDGs.
In the following school
year, the service project that the class decided to organize was related to
recycling and saving the environment. The students collected plastic film to be
sent to the Trex Company, which uses recycled materials to make composite
lumber. Many schools compete against each other to recycle the most plastic
film and Mrs. G’s multi grade class took a leadership role with this contest.
The students created a Google Slides presentation, developed flyers to be sent
home with students in the school, and visited all of the classes in the school
to explain what can be recycled, where the collection bins were placed and all
of the details about the project. They weighed and packaged the plastic, as
well as recording the data for the competition. The students were proud of
their contribution to the UN SDGs and helping the environment.
Service projects such as these were a
wonderful way for students to feel empowered as elementary students. It started with one student stating in class,
“People are hungry, we have to do something to help!” Through this experience,
they realized that their small contribution to helping the poor and hungry, or
recycling to help the environment were ways that they could join people all
over the world to obtain the UN SDGs. They were able to recognize their power
as citizens of a global community. It was important to reflect and determine if
there was a lasting impression made by studying the UN Goals.
Results: Impact of the Project on the Students
Mrs. G polled her
students with Google Forms at the end of the school year to assess the impact
that this project had on the students. There were seven questions ranging from
how important are the goals to written responses about how they can be global
citizens. One student wrote, “The food drive helps the people that are starving
and have no money so they get food that is donated from other people. Then they
can have food to fill their stomachs.” Another
student commented, “Doing Trex made us global citizens because we helped by
recycling. So the world won’t be filled with plastic. Also because we can reuse
it.” Some even commented about the
Marker Recycling Program that was underway in the school, or about the garden
at their school. They were applying the knowledge that they had gained from the
project and analyzing how activities conducted by other organizations relate to
the UN SDGs.
By exposing the
elementary students to the UN SDGs, they were given an awareness of the world
around them, beyond their community, state, and country. While engaged in this
project, most of the students were shocked to hear some of the statistics.
Student “S” wrote in her blog post that some people in the world live on $1.25
a day and it elicited quite a discussion. One response from Student “G” was
that “People in North Korea and most of Africa live a daily life of poverty.”
The class discussion was facilitated by the teacher to assist in explaining
different cultures, religions, governments and such in terms that were on the
developmental level of the children, including censoring material that would
not be appropriate for discussion at their age. Students were more interested
and empathetic towards the issues that were associated with their age group children,
such as not going to school, than other issues, like living with little money
and resources. Also, their understanding of those problems and causes were
sometimes limited. This confirms that the blog session is a good tool to
promote students’ learning, to assess their understanding, and to inform
teachers what they need for the next instruction.
These UN SDGs are global
objectives that are being addressed by corporations, governments and even
students. By teaching the children as
young as elementary school, they are being provided with information, facts and
statistics that reach beyond “their world”.
One young lady wrote a very impactful statement, “We can make our world
a better place to be by making these small donations and commitments, but in
reality, that can make a lifetime difference.” Empowering young children to
believe that they can have an impact will cultivate adults and forward thinking
The project can be easily adaptable for multiple grade
levels to provide elementary school students a creative and interesting way to
learn about global issues and give them a lens into other countries and ways of
life. Any classroom with Internet access and devices to utilize Google
Classroom or other online program such as Otus, Kiddom, or Edmoto can apply the
principles of this multifaceted project.
The three-part framework: (1)
becoming informed (about ideas, events, issues); (2) thinking it through
(presenting fair and balanced views); and (3) taking action (teaching
deliberation, decision-making, and civic action) effectively engaged elementary
students in learning global issues. The UN SDGs were a good source and tool in
carrying out this model.
While there are few studies and practices of teaching the United
Nations and global issues in elementary level, this classroom practice provides
a good example of how it can be successfully done and build young learners’
global awareness and active citizenship. ELA, science, math, and the arts can
be integrated in addition to Social Studies as well as the skills of reading,
interpreting, and presenting can be taught in this unit project learning.
Because it deals with subject matter that is of immediate interest and bridges
school learning with life outside school, it is highly motivating to critically
think and take action. It provides elementary school students with information
that they have not been exposed to and helps them build a knowledge base for
understanding current and future problems.
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