Students examine the causes and effects of global warming and delve into questions of who is most responsible for and vulnerable to the changing climate. Students also grapple with how to respond to climate change in ways that are both effective and fair.
On November 6-18, 2022, global leaders and delegates will meet in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, for the 27th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). In this lesson, adapted from Choices’ full curriculum unit Climate Change and Questions of Justice, students will be introduced to the concepts of environmental justice and climate justice. Students will watch short videos of leading climate scholars to learn about these foundational concepts. They will then use this conceptual framework to explore an interactive digital atlas that documents cases of injustice from around the world.
In this lesson, students will:
- Explore the concepts of climate justice and environmental justice.
- Consider the human geography of climate change.
- Examine and compare specific cases of environmental injustice throughout the world.
- Synthesize their knowledge of climate change and issues of justice.
Though this lesson can be completed as a stand-alone activity, the following curriculum unit provides a more comprehensive introduction to the topic of climate change and the concepts of environmental justice and climate justice:
Graphic Organizer: Environmental Justice Atlas
Global Atlas of Environmental Justice
In the Classroom
1. Reviewing Climate Change (Optional): Depending on your students’ familiarity with the topic, you may wish to show the following videos to introduce and review what climate change is before moving on to the main activity. For more Choices Program videos about climate change, see our complete climate change video collection.
- What is climate change? (Professors Tim Herbert and Naveeda Khan)
- How does climate change affect our daily lives? (Professors Naveeda Khan, J. Timmons Roberts, and Dov Sax)
Note: For a more comprehensive introduction to the causes and effects of climate change, see Part I of Climate Change and Questions of Justice. Part II helps students consider questions of responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change.
2. Introducing Climate Justice: Play the two videos below of Professors Dawn King and J. Timmons Roberts answering the question “What is climate justice?” to introduce the concept.
Review the concept of climate justice. Who is most responsible for causing climate change? Who is most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change? How are the effects of climate change felt unequally by different populations around the world? Have students share specific examples of injustice related to climate change that they’ve heard of.
3. Defining Environmental Justice: Tell students that climate justice is related to a larger concept called environmental justice. Share and discuss the following definition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the class:
“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys:
- the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and
- equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”
Ask students to reflect on the definition. How would they describe environmental justice in their own words? How would they describe what environmental injustice looks like?
Play the video “What is environmental justice?” by Professor Dawn King (below). How does Professor King explain the concept? What examples of environmental injustice, and subsequent activism against those injustices, does Professor King describe?
4. Exploring the Environmental Justice Atlas: Tell students that they will be exploring an interactive map that documents examples of environmental injustice and describes efforts to seek justice in these cases. Share the link to the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice. Direct them to the “About” page on the site. How do the creators of the atlas describe their mission? What are they aiming to achieve? Briefly walk students through the atlas, pointing out the legend and the significance of the different icons. Direct students towards the “Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy” cases.
Distribute Graphic Organizer: Environmental Justice Atlas. Tell students to follow the instructions on the handout as they explore the atlas and fill in the graphic organizer.
5. Closing Discussion: Reconvene the class. Ask students to share one example of a case that they researched on the atlas. How did the case demonstrate issues of environmental injustice? Do any of the cases connect to the topic of climate justice? If so, how? Do students see any similarities across the different cases? How have community members, activists, and NGOs sought to address environmental injustices in these cases? Does this connect in any way to what students have learned about climate activism?
1. Persuasive Writing: Have students complete a short research and writing project using a case from the atlas. Have students choose a climate change case that is as close as possible to where they live. (Alternatively, allow students to select a case of their choosing.)
Students should draft a short, evidence-based, persuasive essay that describes the case and explains why this case is an issue of environmental or climate injustice. Students should write in the third person, cite specific examples from the atlas, and use evidence from the “Sources and Materials” and their new knowledge about climate change. To strengthen their argument, students should utilize the EPA definition of environmental justice.
2. Monitoring the News: Have students monitor news sites for stories about cases of environmental or climate injustice. Students should share the stories with the class and explain how they are related to the concept of climate justice and/or environmental justice.
3. Examining Global Action: Have students follow the 27th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) taking place November 6-18, 2022, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Does the conference focus on issues of justice? Has the conference drawn protesters? If so, do any of the protesters’ signs or statements focus on issues of injustice? Have students write a brief written report or share their findings with the class.