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Science Wednesday: Making Climate Change the Next “Hot” Topic

2009 August 12

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

“So how are we going to do this?” was the first question on our lips after we accepted an invitation to speak to a group of middle school students in EPA’s Student Environmental Development Program.  As scientists who focus on highly technical research questions to inform expert stakeholders, it was a rather scary prospect to attempt to convey what we do to a group of 8th graders. How could we discuss our research on climate change effects on the environment in a way that would be fun as well as educational?

What our guest appearance turned out to be was as much a fun, learning experience for us as we hope it was for the students.

“Does anyone know what the difference is between “climate” and “weather”?” Susan asked, as a means of opening her discussion on climate change.  What followed was a delightful and varied array of opinions and anecdotes from the enthusiastic students. We realized that this was an issue that the students were eager to learn more about.

“What is risk? What is adaptation?” Amanda illustrated these concepts with an example of shark attacks at swimming beaches, and asked the students to give examples of ways that communities could reduce risks to swimmers. Their idea of patrolling and marking “safe swimming areas” with buoys was an example of an adaptation, and provided an easy transition into discussing adaptations to climate change by wetlands managers.

“Is a coral an animal or a plant?” Jordan used corals and their sensitivity to climate change to lead the students in an exercise based on a real project in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. The students were asked to assume the role of coral reef managers and design a network of marine protected areas that would be most resilient to climate change. After only a brief “ training” in concepts of coral biology, physical oceanography, socioeconomics, and resilience theory, the students were surprised and excited to find that they chose the same coral reef areas for protection that a group of experts did!

We hope that this experience showed the students that, while climate change is a serious problem, there is a large community of scientists, managers and concerned citizens who are exploring and implementing actions to address the severest effects on the environment. What we learned was that the complex issues that we study in our research program can indeed be understood and appreciated by any age group. In fact, it is eager and motivated students such as these who will take up the mantle of “saving the world”.

About the authors: Jordan West, Susan Julius, and Amanda Babson work together in EPA’s Global Change Research Program, where they love to debate with their colleagues on how best to” save the world”.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Lois Graham permalink
    August 13, 2009

    I have also had the wonderful experience of presenting science in real life to 8th graders at a community in SE Michigan for the past several years. I work with a state funded program to provide replacement water supplies to individuals affected by drinking water contamination. The teacher has asked me to talk to her students about drinking water issues in their area and how the state agency is addressing them. She brings me in after they have completed a science model where they investigate groundwater contamination in a fictional community. Sharing with them the work I do within their neighborhoods brings their classroom lessons to life.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2009

    Interesting material. Good idea but why is the sun reacting so weirdly and how is it effecting the change of climate as well as weather?

  3. Johnny R. permalink
    August 14, 2009

    It’s hard to sell climate change unless you admit that it’s only a symptom of the ecocidal consequences to humanity’s greed for more of everything forever, and that requires a basic change of behavior, not merely a few green patches here and there. Tell the students that a growing economy on a shrinking planet has no future.

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