Climate Change

Claudia Khourey-Bowers, Kent State University

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Climate change, accepted by most scientists as a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors, has far-reaching implications for ecological systems, human practices, and economic development. What role can or should international and national policies play in mitigating climate change? What is the trade-off between economic development and ecological stability?

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Learning Goals

Students should understand the complex natural and human processes involved in the earth's climate system. They should explore questions related to social and personal responsibility, impact of local and global actions, implications for ecological diversity, and potential effects of climate change and mitigation strategies on economic growth and sustainability for developing nations.

Context for Use

The topic of this SAC may be appropriate at the high school or college level. As with any SAC, advance preparation by the students and instructor is essential. The Town Council itself will take 40 - 60 minutes, depending on the depth of arguments that you expect from the students. Students should be given significant out-of-class preparation time to do the necessary reading and to construct their presentations, and they may need some in-class time to prepare with their teams. Students should have the guiding questions ahead of time as they prepare their comments.

Description and Teaching Materials

Groups of students will be expected to learn about climate change from multiple perspectives, including from among the following:

  • Ecologists
  • Economic investors in industrialized and developing nations
  • International policy makers, including representatives from governmental agencies and non governmental agencies
  • Human rights groups, including representatives from health organizations and environmental protection groups
  • Political action committees
  • Elected officials

Student Guidelines

(1) The class will be divided into 4-6 groups. All students are to read from the listing of suggested online resources provided. In addition, each group will be given a specific perspective to become "experts" on for the International Council. Each group is expected to become expert representatives of their group's position, yet remain open-minded about the worth of what each other group has to contribute to the discussion. (worth 25 pts)

(2) Each group will prepare a detailed, yet concise written summary of their position [ecologists, economic investors in industrialized and developing nations, international policy makers, (including representatives from governmental agencies and NGOs), and human rights groups, (including representatives from health organizations and environmental protection groups)]. Your group's summary should be typed, 2 - 3 pages, and can be used during the International Council. (worth 20 pts)

(3) During the international meeting, each group will present, according to the protocol, their summary information, as well as prepared responses to Question Sets A & B. These prepared responses should be typed, and represent in-depth thinking of all group members. (worth 30 pts)

(4) Following the International Council, each student will be asked to respond to open-ended questions about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues.


Town Council agenda (Microsoft Word 26kB Nov3 08) with question sets



Teaching Notes and Tips

Regardless of students' initial sense of conviction, it is important to emphasize the instructional goals: to expand individuals' perspectives and understanding of others' points of view; and to develop deeper understanding of the complexities of climate change.Ths SAC topic may be approached through local or personal relevance, then expanded to show connections to global impact and responsibility. At the conclusion of the SAC, students may be eager to talk about how the SAC changed their way of thinking and more importantly, how the exercise gave them insights into others' points of view. In particular, students may not be accustomed to thinking globally, in terms of ecological, economic, or political consequences. This SAC can provide a unique opportunity to help students think about ecological relationships which extend through time or geography. The same may be true about economic and policy decisions, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which are most effective at the global level of implementation.

Also see: Communicating Global Climate Change: Using Debate to Engage Integrative Learning. This series of video clips from MERLOT/ELIXR demonstrates the use of debate as a strategy for engaging student with the issues surrounding climate change. Project materials, timelines and PowerPoint slides are also included.


Students are expected to prepare their comments ahead of time, so those can be assessed with criteria that would be used with an essay or research report. Student or team performances during the International Council can be assessed from the standpoint of effective communication, presentation style, respect and listening to other perspectives, or quality and organization of information. For help with developing rubrics, go to Rubistar.

Students will be expected to research and discuss the following questions related to climate change:

1. What roles do natural processes have in producing climate change? What is the likelihood that climate change is more the result of natural cycles than of human activities?

2. What roles do humans and various types of human activity play in the processes of climate change?

3. What direct effects does climate change have on ecological diversity? What are the indirect effects on ecological diversity?

4. Should economic progress be restrained to minimize greenhouse gas emissions? What are the economic drawbacks of not requiring reduced global emissions?

5. Should economic or technological progress in developing nations be limited to minimize the emission of additional greenhouse gases? What responsibilities do industrialized nations have in making emissions cuts?

6. What is the trade-off between economic development and ecological stability? Can economic progress occur without adversely affecting natural environmental conditions?

More importantly, use of the structured academic controversy format can change student beliefs and attitudes.

Student beliefs and self-knowledge can be assessed through a short written response about the instructional value of the process of structured academic controversy, as well as a personal reflection on the broader issues. Student understanding of the complexity of climate change can be assessed through an essay exam in which students expand on one or more of the guiding questions used in the activity.