Who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate?
Second edition. July 2017.

In recent years, international attention to climate change has surged. Most students today are aware of melting ice caps and the plight of polar bears. Yet we often struggle to see this apocalyptic-sounding environmental problem as an immediate social issue. Climate change involves more than just rising sea levels and UN conventions. It presents a wide range of complex problems that transcend national boundaries and affect individuals around the world in drastically different ways. The effects of climate change on society range from reduced access to food and water to increased risk of natural disasters and disease.

Negotiations about how to respond to climate change at national and international levels have been fraught with political disagreement. Colonial history, economic development, resource consumption, and disparities in wealth and power are some of the many controversial topics that dominate discourse about the state of the environment. Climate Change and Questions of Justice explores the causes and effects of global warming and delves into questions of who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate. Students grapple with how to respond to climate change at local, national, and international levels in ways that are both effective and fair.


Part I of the reading explores the causes of climate change and the wide range of effects that climate change has on weather, ecosystems, human health, agriculture, and international security. Part II provides an overview of local, national, and international responses to climate change and helps students consider questions of responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change. Part III includes eight in-depth case studies examining diverse regions of the world and how they are experiencing and responding to climate change. Each case study has a unique focus, including mitigation politics, economic development and adaptation, health, gender, migration, and poverty.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Climate Change's Effects on Living Things

Working in groups, students consider how climate change will affect a variety of plants and animals in the United States as well as the services they provide to people. Students collaborate to give short presentations and create web diagrams showing the relationships between climate change and its effects on living things.

Films and Climate Change

Students analyze one or multiple documentary films about climate change, identifying the scientific research included and considering how filmmakers choose to convey their message.

Policy in the Media

Students practice primary source analysis by examining a collection of editorial articles about the practicality and appeal of carbon taxes. Students compare and contrast the arguments presented in the articles, considering bias, audience, and authors' backgrounds to assess source reliability.

Data Analysis: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Students work in groups to analyze data on the carbon dioxide emissions of the eight countries highlighted in the case studies in Part III of the reading. Students use these data to consider the question of how to determine responsibility for climate change.

Looking at the Eight Case Studies

Students analyze photographs of each of the countries highlighted in the case studies in Part III. Students consider the benefits and limitations of using photographs as a source for learning about life in different places and about climate change.

The Options Role Play

Working cooperatively, students take on the roles of country and organization representatives participating in a UN conference on climate change. Students deliberate over three different options for international climate change policy.

Taking Action on Climate Change

Students articulate their own opinions on the international response to climate change based on personally held values, evidence, and political understanding. Students then work in groups to design an organization to address their top concerns about climate change and create a visual publicity tool for their organization.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Kolbert, Elizabeth. Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2006.

Meckling, Jonas. Carbon Coalitions: Business, Climate Politics, and the Rise of Emissions Trading. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011.

Newell, Peter and Matthew Paterson. Climate Capitalism: Global Warming and the Transformation of the Global Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

O’Brien, Karen, Asunción Lera St. Clair, and Berit Kristoffersen, eds. Climate Change, Ethics and Human Security. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Roberts, J. Timmons and Bradley Parks. A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.

Roberts, J. Timmons, David Ciplet, and Mizan Khan. Power in a Warming World: The New Geopolitics of Climate Change. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, Fall 2015.

Ruddiman, William F. Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

This tool estimates household carbon footprint and shows how different lifestyle choices, household features, and new technologies affect emissions.
This site has a collection of paired photographs that show how climate change has affected the environment over time. Photographer David Arnold returns to the sites of historic photographs of coral reefs and glaciers and replicates the original photos. The site also includes additional resources on climate change's effects on coral reefs and glaciers.
A federal agency that provides current and historical data on domestic and international energy production as well as on the environmental effects of energy use.
A comprehensive educational webpage produced by the Council on Foreign Relations about how the international community is responding to climate change.
The leading international body for scientific, technical, and socioeconomic climate change data and analysis.
A website where individuals can log in and transcribe ship records dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Scientists will use these transcriptions to improve their climate model projections and knowledge of past environmental conditions. Historians will use them to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.
A project and formal report focused on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate.
An online data visualization tool that uses animated, interactive maps to help convey how different countries fit into the climate change picture—both in terms of responsibility and vulnerability.
A federal research program that produces the National Climate Assessment, supports policy decision-making, and provides tools for educating about climate change.
Website of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the latest international news on climate change research and responses as well as information about UNFCCC meetings and process.
An online publication with a collection of articles by commentators, researchers, and activists around the world covering climate change through the lens of equity.
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