Who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate?
Third edition. December 2020.
PREVIEW THIS UNITThe preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS. Additional unit descriptions for the Current Issues Series that summarize the historical context, student readings, and skill development are available on this MIRO BOARD.

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. The unit is divided into three parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills (including at least one that focuses on building geographic literacy) and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson and additional synthesis lessons that allow students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“This is a great unit. It does a great job of simplifying the science, showing the impact, and setting up the policy debate. It’s very informative for students.” – Derek, History Teacher, New Jersey

Part I: The Causes and Effects of Global Climate Change

Part I 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. There are two lessons aligned with Part I: 1) Climate Change's Effects on Living Things, and 2) Films and Climate Change.

Part II: Responses to Climate Change

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. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Policy in the Media, and 2) Data Analysis: Carbon Dioxide Emissions.

Part III: Case Studies

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. There is one lesson aligned with Part III: Looking at the Eight Case Studies.


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

The Options Role Play is the key lesson in the unit, and it asks students to examine three distinct options for international climate change policy in a simulation activity. Students take on the roles of representatives at a UN climate change conference.

Taking Action on Climate Change

Synthesis Lesson: 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.

Synthesis Lesson: Students explore the concepts of climate justice and environmental justice. Students examine an interactive map to investigate and compare cases of environmental injustice and activism from around the world.

  • Includes four graphs for use with the lesson "Data Analysis: Carbon Dioxide Emissions."

  • For use with the lesson "Looking at the Eight Case Studies."

  • A list of possible documentaries for the “Films and Climate Change” lesson.

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