A Changing Planet
Author: Sylvia Kniest

Time: 1 class period
Copy articles for students.
Materials: Desk copy of world map for each student
Article: Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level?


The debate regarding climate change has become an issue that has received increasing awareness as extreme weather patterns have become more prevalent in the past year. Tsunamis, hurricanes, droughts, severe temperatures and tropical storms have had a huge impact on the inhabitants and national markets of various regions of the world. As weather has captivated headlines, more people are becoming aware of the fragile nature of our ecosystem and how humans can and do upset the balance of nature. This lesson will engage students in the climate change debate and instill an awareness of the interdependence of our physical environment.

Students will be able to:
1. Describe climate change and the future impact it could have on our physical environment.
2. Identify the regions of the world that would encounter the most significant effects of a global warming.

National Geography Standard
Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns of the earth's surface.
Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.

Teacher Background
http://yosemite.epa.gov/oar/globalwarming.nsf/UniqueKeyLookup/SHSU5BWJM2/$File/whatisgwprimer.pdf for an article on global warming.

Related and Resource Websites
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/04/0420_040420_earthday_2.html article: Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level?



1. Begin the lesson by asking students what they know about climate change; create a “T” chart on the board to record students’ input:

What do you know about climate change? What do you want to learn?

2. Hand out the article, “Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level?” from the website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/04/0420_040420_earthday_2.html plus a desk map of the world.

  • Have students illustrate the effects of global warming on their maps as they read the article.
  • Ask students to write a one-page story that describes a hypothetical situation about the impact of global warming on either a human or animal inhabitant.

3. Lead the students in a discussion that clarifies the distinction between climate change and global warming. The background information includes information on this distinction.

4. Discuss with the class the following questions:
i. What is climate change? What is global warming in relation to climate change?
ii. Within the scientific community there is little debate that the global climate has seen a significant warming during the recent past and there is a large body of evidence to support this contention and human action is indicated as a significant factor in this warming. However, there is a volatile debate in the media and politics as to whether this warming is a result of human activity. Why is this subject so controversial? Is this a topic that you, the public, should be interested in? What is your opinion on on climate change?

Ask student volunteers to read their hypothetical situations out loud to the class.

Have the class discuss the following at the conclusion of the panel’s discussion:
1. How might scarcity of safe water lead to conflict? Give examples.
2. Why is arsenic contamination a global issue?
3. How might water quality impact the economy of a society?
4. Do you agree with the final decision of the student panel?

Embedded Assessment
Student understanding of climate change and its potential impact on our physical environment, as well as their ability to identify regions of the world that would encounter the most significant effects of a global warming. will be assessed by their stories and physical maps.


PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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