InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Regulating Carbon Emissions > Unit 1: Evidence and Impacts of Climate Change
 Earth-focused Modules and Courses for the Undergraduate Classroom
showLearn More
These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »
How to Use »

New to InTeGrate?

Learn how to incorporate these teaching materials into your class.

  • Find out what's included with each module
  • Learn how it can be adapted to work in your classroom
  • See how your peers at hundreds of colleges and university across the country have used these materials to engage their students

How To Use InTeGrate Materials »
show Download
The instructor material for this module are available for offline viewing below. Downloadable versions of the student materials are available from this location on the student materials pages. Learn more about using the different versions of InTeGrate materials »

Download a PDF of all web pages for the instructor's materials

Download a zip file that includes all the web pages and downloadable files from the instructor's materials

Unit 1: Evidence and Impacts of Climate Change

Eric Leibensperger, SUNY Plattsburgh and Sandra Penny, Sage Colleges

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Students review climate science information, understand impacts to humans resulting from climate change, identify systems interactions and communicate their understanding via a gallery walk and a concept map.

Science and Engineering Practices

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information: Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms. HS-P8.1:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. MS-C4.1:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. MS-C2.2:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Global Climate Change: Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. MS-ESS3.D1:

Weather and Climate: Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate. HS-ESS2.D3:

Global Climate Change: Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts. HS-ESS3.D1:

Performance Expectations

Earth and Human Activity: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity. HS-ESS3-1:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: May 30, 2017

Summary

This unit introduces students to the geoscience behind the challenge of anthropogenic climate change. Upon completion, students will be able to explain the many impacts of climate change on society and summarize the scientific evidence that led the authors of the National Climate Assessment to conclude that the "global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels" (NCA, 2014).

Learning Goals

At the conclusion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Summarize the cause and evidence for anthropogenic climate change.
  2. Describe some of the impacts of climate change on people and the environment.

Context for Use

This unit is suitable for any level of undergraduate class and is primarily directed at non-climate science courses. Upper division geoscience courses, such classes as meteorology, oceanography, or climatology, may not need to include parts or all of this unit before using later units in the module as the material covered here (e.g, observations and models of global climate change) would likely be covered in more detail or known to students in upper division courses. For introductory courses in environmental science/studies, this unit is flexible enough to be taught as a stand-alone introduction to the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change, as well as an introduction to the linkages between carbon emissions and climate change.

This unit was designed to be carried out over one long lecture period (~75 minutes).

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Materials Required for Unit 1

  • Computer with a connection to a projector to show the Unit 1 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 25.6MB Feb6 17) with the aid of the Unit 1 Lecture Notes (Microsoft Word 154kB Feb6 17).
  • 9 large pads of paper and markers; a large whiteboard or chalkboard that can be divided into 9 segments; or enough 8.5"x11" (or 11"x17") white paper and markers to create a workstation (the number of pads/board segments is dependent on class size and the number of impacts presented). The key is to provide students a medium to collect their thoughts and share with the rest of the class during the
    gallery walk


    This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

    activity described below.

Prior to starting the module

Have students take this climate literacy assessment (Microsoft Word 103kB Aug15 16). It takes between 5-10 minutes to complete and should be done by each student prior to beginning the reading assigned for Unit 1. The assessment can be completed at the end of the class meeting before the module is started or given as a homework assignment due before the class readings for Unit 1 are assigned. The climate literacy assessment will show what students already know about climate change, including scientific, economic, and political aspects, and identify any common misconceptions among students in the class that should be explicitly addressed in class. This diagnostic assessment also provides a baseline against which students will gauge their learning about climate change over the course of the module. In Unit 7, there is metacognition exercise that utilizes the climate literacy assessment to encourage students to reflect upon their learning. Answers to the climate literacy assessment will vary but a sample set of answers is available

here


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

.

Prior to the first class session

Before class (but after taking the climate literacy assessment (Microsoft Word 103kB Aug15 16)), students should read the Overview of the Climate Change Impacts in the United States from the U.S. National Climate Assessment for the activity in Part 2. The Overview is freely available as a PDF: Overview_NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 4.9MB Jan12 16) or within an attractive web interface available here. The Overview outlines the causes and impacts of recent and near-term climate change. The U.S. National Climate Assessment is the product of more than 300 experts and a 60 person Federal National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee. The U.S. National Climate Assessment is designed to present scientifically defensible evidence of the causes and impacts of climate change to better inform public and private decision making. Free print copies of the Overview (available here) and Highlights (available here) can be ordered from the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Additionally, students should be grouped and assigned one of the following Climate Impact Findings from the Climate Change Impacts in the United States Highlights of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. Students should read their assigned section and come to class prepared to discuss their Finding within their group. Note that Findings 7 and 9 are long enough to be split into 2 or 3 sections if additional groups are needed to accommodate large classes.

  1. Widespread Impacts (Finding 4; pages 32-33 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  2. Human Health (Finding 5; pages 34-37 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  3. Infrastructure (Finding 6; pages 38-41 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  4. Water Supply (Finding 7; pages 42-45 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  5. Agriculture (Finding 8; pages 46-47 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  6. Indigenous Peoples (Finding 9; pages 48-49 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  7. Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Finding 10; pages 50-57 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  8. Oceans (Finding 11; pages 58-61 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)
  9. Responses to Climate Change (Finding 12; pages 62-68 of Highlights of NCA (Acrobat (PDF) 21.4MB Jan20 16) or here)

Instructors should prepare sheets or boards following the

Gallery Walk instructor sheet


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

for activity in Part 2.

During class (3 Parts, total time: 70-75 minutes)

Unit 1 Lecture Notes (Microsoft Word 154kB Feb6 17) and Unit 1 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 25.6MB Feb6 17) provide a detailed guide for in-class activities. In brief:

Part 1. Scientific evidence and consensus for global climate change (20-25 minute lecture and discussion):

Ask students key questions and show the Unit 1 PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 25.6MB Feb6 17) slides as described in the Unit 1 Lecture Notes (Microsoft Word 154kB Feb6 17). Begin class by asking the students what they know about climate change and how they know it. Figures in the PowerPoint present major lines of evidence for anthropogenic climate change. The important aspects to emphasize in this section include:

  • The scientific consensus surrounding climate change research
  • The unequivocal warming observed since the pre-industrial era
  • The importance of impacts propagating throughout the Earth system (i.e., systems thinking).

Part 2. Impacts of change (up to 45 minute Gallery Walk activity):

Students do a climate change impacts Gallery Walk to discuss key Findings from the U.S. National Climate Assessment. This

gallery walk instructor sheet


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

provides instructions and the key points and examples of the nine Findings assigned to groups of students.

Part 3. Summarize with Systems Thinking (5 minute Discussion):

In the following units, students will be asked to diagram (aka concept map) aspects of the climate system. You can help them along by taking a few minutes at the end of class to diagram on the board what they have learned so far:

carbon emissions -> climate change -> impacts

As shown by the NCA, some of these impacts will be devastating and costly. We'll get to costs in Unit 3. In the next class, we drill down on the science behind climate change. The climate system will be discussed more thoroughly and the connections between emissions and climate change will be clarified.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Instructor notes exist for all of the activities and assignments and they are all linked above. The Unit 1 Lecture Notes provide an overarching guide to in-class activities for this Unit. For ease of access, here are all of the files that have been developed for use in Unit 1:

The timing and number of topics included in the gallery walk can be adjusted to accommodate different length classes.

Assessment

Climate Literacy Assessment (Microsoft Word 103kB Aug15 16) is a diagnostic assessment designed to encourage students to think about what they know, or think they know, about the causes and consequences of climate change prior to the start of the module. This assessment is not graded but it is returned to the students at the conclusion of the module to help them reflect upon their learning.

The Learning Goals for this unit are informally assessed with the

gallery walk activity


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

and formally assessed with the summative assessment, Op-Ed writing assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 90kB Nov8 16), given at the end of the module.

References and Resources

Here are some links to climate-relevant websites that you and your students may find interesting. Note that access to these websites is not a required part of Unit 1.

  • The Berkeley Earth project is an independent global mean surface temperature analysis. Berkeley Earth provides station to regional to global temperature analysis. This website provides a wealth of information, including details surrounding station bias correction and breakpoints, i.e., time periods when temperature records for individual stations are notably discontinuous. Berkeley Earth's website contains a lot of data useful for qualitative and quantitative exercises in more advanced classes.
  • The Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) is one of the standard observational datasets of surface temperature. The GISTEMP website contains graphs of station to global temperature trends, global maps of temperature trends, and more. GISTEMP graphics are updated as data becomes available.
  • Skeptical Science is a top-notch resource that explains climate change science in a clear and concise manner. Skeptical Science is monitored by climate scientists and contains detailed rebuttals of climate myths. A strength of this website is their presentation of science and varying degrees of technical detail: basic, intermediate, and advanced.
  • What We Know Statement of scientific consensus by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) periodically produces a "state of the science" assessment of climate change research. All aspects of the Assessment Report are freely available online, including figures and data. The Assessment Report is divided into three sections:
  • IPCC Process This web page details the generation and evaluation processes of the IPCC assessment reports.
  • Climate Reanalyzer is a University of Maine project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The website contains attractive graphics that describe current conditions, weather forecasts, and climate change analyses.

Already used some of these materials in a course?
Let us know and join the discussion »

Considering using these materials with your students?
Get pointers and learn about how it's working for your peers in their classrooms »

These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »