Sustainability Lesson 4 Activities
Sustainability Lesson 4 Hook

Time: 5-7 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 1
Related resources: 
- Gapminder World, “Yearly CO2 emission rates vs. income rates” (n.d.). [data set].

Introduce students to Gapminder World.  Briefly demonstrate how the graphs work, and in particular how the bubbles/colors identify different countries and regions. Play “CO2 emissions Since 1820” to demonstrate increased global emissions over time and the USA’s move to the lead:  

Quick write for students:  Write a quick response to this demonstration, making a link to at least one issue covered in a previous lesson.

The teacher may discuss briefly, or weave discussion of probable responses into the interactive lecture.  Some important themes:

  • dramatic growth in emissions over time
  • concerns for long-term sustainability
  • initial growth in Europe, then  USA;  seen later for other regions
  • How are consumption patterns part of this – and how may they vary within countries?
  • What is being done?  Can be done?
Sustainability Lesson 4 Lecture and Discussion

Time: 30-60 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 2
Related Resources:
- Sustainability4.ppt PowerPoint presentation.

Using lecture outline and PowerPoint slides, introduce students to the concepts of global warming. Integrate questions and discussion to make it interactive and allow for formative assessment of students’ thinking about the topics. 

I. To understand Global Warming, one must understand the natural processes that control the Earth’s Climate

A. What is the difference between weather and climate?: (Slides 1- 4)

i.      Weather:  the state of atmospheric conditions over a short period of  time:  Hours or days.
ii.      Climate: The long term average weather for an area:  Months, years, centuries.
iii.      The global warming everyone talks about is a warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

B. What controls climate? (Slide 5)

i.      Orbital factors – Milankovitch cycles. (Slides 7-14)
Amount of heat reaching earth from the sun  varies due to:

  1. Eccentricity – 100,000 yrs,
  2. Earth’s tilt – 41,000 yrs,
  3. Precession – 23,000  yrs
    Overall temperature effect  +/-4˚C

 ii.      Reflectivity of Earth’s surface (Albedo) (Slides 15 – 19)
Sun’s heat may be reflected back out -thus not absorbed by Earth.
Albedo = the degree of reflectivity  Albedo increases with: Increased cloud cover, Increased snow cover, Increased aerosols in atmosphere

Q:  What topographic factors could affect albedo?  Human activities?

Visual (Climatepedia, “Albedo”):

iii.      Solar radiation: Fluctuates with sunspot activity (Slides 20 -23)
Increases in sunspots = increased energy production of sun.
Sunspot cycle is ~9 to 11.5 years

iv.      Volcanic activity:  Sulfur dioxide gas is ejected into the stratosphere,
 Combines with water to form an aerosol (mist) of sulfuric acid    Blocks in coming solar radiation and cools the Earth (Slides 24 -25)

 v.      Ocean currents: Redistributes the heat.  Very complex. Another course! (Slides 26 – 28)

vi.      Atmospheric composition: Earth has a Greenhouse Effect and is warmer than the moon. Greenhouse gases include: Carbon dioxide (CO2),  methane, CFCs, and water vapor (Slides 29 – 32)

II. How the greenhouse basically works:  (Slides 33-39)

Energy from the Sun (Ultraviolet Radiation-UV) comes to Earth and warms up the solid Earth.  The Earth radiates heat out (in the form of Infrared Radiation-IR) to its atmosphere.  Greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere absorb the IR heat and re-radiate it out-about half of which is directed towards the Earth warming up the atmosphere.

III. Where does the carbon come from or The Carbon Cycle? (Slide 40- 41)

A. Carbon is stored in five major reservoirs on the planet and moves between them as it cycles. 

i.      The atmosphere
ii.      The biosphere
iii.      The oceans
iv.      Sediments including fossil fuels.
v.      The Earth’s interior.

B. Short term cycling occurs between plants, animals and the atmosphere through respiration

i.      Plants take up CO2 from the atmosphere, and use in to build plant matter.  Animals ingest plant matter and use the Carbon to build themselves and also exhale CO2
ii.      When plants and animals die, CO2 is released as their remains decay.

C. Long term cycling occurs when the plant or animal remains are buried with sediments in the crust and cannot decay. 

i.      Then the remains turn into fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas (methane).
ii.      Shells of animals also store CO2 as the rock limestone.

Visit:  National Geographic, “Global Carbon Footprint”

IV. Why is more CO2being put into the atmosphere?  (Slides 42-43)

A. Burning carbon-based fuel (fossil fuels) produces Carbon Dioxide (CO2)   fossil fuel + O2 = Heat energy + H2O + CO2

B. Carbon-based creates Carbon Dioxide when burned:
                            Oil                                          fossil fuel
                            Gasoline                            fossil fuel
                            Natural gas                            fossil fuel
                            Coal                                          fossil fuel             
                            Bio-diesel                              renewable
                            Wood                                            renewable

C. Also referred to as Hydrocarbon fuels

i.      Compounds of hydrogen and carbon
ii.      Provide > 40% world’s energy needs
iii.      Provides 90% of world’s transportation needs
iv.      Also used to make: plastic, paint, nylon, synthetic rubber, fertilizer ….

V. How do we know it’s the human made carbon dioxide that is increasing global atmospheric temperatures? (Slides 44-53)

A. Climate Models

B. Solar and volcanic activities have been responsible for some of the variations in Northern Hemisphere temperature over the past 1000 years.  

C.  Neither solar nor volcanic activity can explain the dramatic warming of the late 20th century. Changes in these forces during the 20th century would actually have resulted in a small cooling since 1960.

D. Only by adding the human-caused increase in greenhouse gas concentrations are the models able to explain the unprecedented warmth of the late 20th  century.

E. By removing the Carbon that was stored as fossil fuels and burning it, humans have changed the rate of the long term cycling.

F. The rate of increase of CO2 into the atmosphere has been very fast, and the natural cycles have not kept up with it.

Sustainability Lesson 4 Reading Discussion

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 2
Related Resources:
- French, Hilary. (2000). “Sharing the Air”. Vanishing Borders: Protecting the Planet in the Age of Globalization. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, Chap 6. 257 pp.

Optionally, one could shorten the lecture and use class time for a discussion of the main reading. (French, 2000).

Discussion questions for reading:

  • What are some aspects of the “ecology of globalization” in “Sharing the Air”?
  • Explains some of the major forces in and forms of globalization and their environmental impacts?
  • How does French portray the threats to the global environment?
  • How does she describe possible solutions?
  • What might be the consequences of inaction?  Of the actions she describes?
  • Relate French’s article to current debates about “protecting the air”
Sustainability Lesson 4 Panel Debate on Global Warming

Time: 90 minutes
Skills: Cross-Cultural Communications and Holistic Thinking
Objective 2
Related Resources:  n/a

The panel debate is an additional option and it could be combined with the panel conclusion.

This activity was developed by the Piloter at Brockport.

Timing:            90 minutes

Topic:              Global Climate Change

Products:                Video and transcript of the debate

                                     Final written report of findings/conclusions

                                    Summary of panel

                                    Statement of the problem

                                    Tasks to be completed


Moderator:      Classroom Professor

Panelists:    John Blowhard, United States Senator

                        Sam Makecar, President of large auto maker

                        Al Gore, Nobel Prize winner

                        Dr. Holly Health, public health official

                        Al Gasser, CEO of large oil+gas company

                        Albert Spreadsheet, expert on climate change data

                        Boris Gromyko, President of Russia

                        Sara Code, climate modeler

                        John Levee, Mayor of New Orleans

                        JaneWindpower, head of alternative energy startup


Audience:   Elke Deutscher, citizen of Germany              

                        Boureima Diallo, citizen of Niger                  

                        Joe Helpless, citizen of the USA

                        Jimmie Sue Diesel, RV owner/fan

                        Firston Howelle, avid yachter and donor to the Sierra Club

                        Andy Roswell, conspiracy theorist and climate change denier

                        Amy Pandahugger, animal activist and member of WWF

                        Rev. Peter Earthlove, religious steward of the planet

                        Hank Sixpack, NASCAR fan

                        Ben Z. Beamer, drives a luxury SUV and assorted classic cars

                        Aysha Rayhan, citizen of Bangladesh

What is a panel discussion?:  Many issues (such as global climate change) are too complex for a single person to handle, so a team of experts is assembled to address the topic.  Having multiple speakers also introduces the possibility of multiple/conflicting perspectives on controversial issues.  Panel discussions are not team presentations, because there is no collaborative preparation or agreed-upon views.  It is somewhat like a debate, but does not follow the standard rules and procedures of competitive debate, and is not in fact a competition. 

 Format for Our Panel:

  1. Each panelist will make a 1 ½ to 2 minute presentation, including introduction, the reason(s) he/she is a panelist, and overall perspective on global climate change. (18 minutes)
  2. After each introductory presentation, the audience (or moderator) can ask a question, challenge an assertion, etc. – these remarks will be directed to the speaker who just finished
  3. After all 10 presentations, the audience (or moderator) will ask a series of “set” questions to the whole panel.  One or more panelists can answer the questions.  After each answer, the audience (or moderator) can pose follow up questions. 


  1. The panelists’ initial statements will be published in advance
  2. Many/most of the “set” questions will be available in advance
  3. Audience members can come in with unpublished questions (to use as rebuttals/challenges mainly)


  1. Character study and GCC position statement (all class members do this)
  2. Draft is due
  3. Final version due 1 week before debate
    1. Panelists initial statements
    2. Draft due 2 weeks before debate
    3. Final version due 1 week before debate for distribution to whole class
      1. Audience members submit 5 “set” questions each
      2. Due 2 ½  weeks before debate
      3. 10-15 will be selected for distribution to whole class
        1. Panelist should prepare answers for (some of) the “set” questions
          1. Focus on question that are apropos to the character
          2. Answer in character

Character Study Outline (everybody does one):

  1. Biographical information

NOTE that some characters are simply “citizens,” so you will need to develop a biography that takes into consideration the diversity with countries (like the factors below)

  1. home, birthplace, job, income level, religion, lifestyle, etc.
  2. your politics
  3. what is your country/state/area “like” (you may need to conduct some research, including to avoid generalization or stereotypes)
  4. education level (especially science)
  5. perhaps picture(s)
    1. Interest in global warming (50-75 words)
    2. position on the debate (250 words, carefully crafted)

EXAMPLE of panel discussion:

Post-Debate Reflection

Write a one-page reflection paper, comparing and contrasting the perspective of your character and another character who has some opinions that are diametrically-opposed to that of your character.  Write this comparison from the perspective of a student in our class, not as a character who participated as either a panelist or audience member.

Sustainability Lesson 4 Conclusion to Panel Discussion

Time: 5-7 minutes
Skills:  Holistic Thinking
Objective 2
Related Resources: n/a

Briefly compare and contrast the points made by two panelists with different views.  [Can be done individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a class.  Prepares students for the post-debate writing assignment.]

Sustainability Lesson 4 Conclusion

Time: 5-7 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 2
Related Resources: n/a

This is an alternate concluding activity for the class. Summarize what you have learned in the past four lessons by drafting a 1-3 sentence statement or creating a mind map that includes the following terms:  globalization, ecological footprint, carbon cycle