The recent federal report outlining the short and long-term social, economic, and environmental costs of climate change is particularly relevant to our students, whose lifetimes will encompass so many of the predicted challenges. Students likely have many questions and concerns, some of which are well-suited to discussions in the History-Social Science classroom. When and how did climate change become an issue? How are droughts and fires related to climate change and settlement locations? How is sea level rise a threat to the economy? All of these questions can be more fully answered when students apply their content knowledge and skills developed in their HSS courses. The CHSSP’s Current Context series helps students understand these environmental challenges and their historical contexts. (See this Current Context for an overview of climate change and the global efforts to slow it.)
The federal report, excerpted below, identifies major areas of concern for the United States, including the impact of climate change on:
- Indigenous Peoples
Climate change increasingly threatens Indigenous communities’ livelihoods, economies, health, and cultural identities by disrupting interconnected social, physical, and ecological systems.
Though not about Indigenous peoples and climate change, this Current Context discusses community activism to address environmental concerns and this Current Context on sea level rise considers the particular impact of industrialization on some of the most vulnerable communities
Rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods.
See this Current Context for an infographic relating to the impact of drought and climate change on agricultural output
The quality and quantity of water available for use by people and ecosystems across the country are being affected by climate change, increasing risks and costs to agriculture, energy production, industry, recreation, and the environment.
See this Current Context for information on the history and current challenges related to water use in California
The nation’s infrastructure is stressed by increases in heavy precipitation events, coastal flooding, heat, wildfires, and other extreme events, as well as changes to average precipitation and temperature.
See this Current Context for information related to water infrastructure abroad and in California
- Human health and welfare
Climate change threatens the health and well-being of the American people by causing increasing extreme weather, changes to air quality, the spread of new diseases by insects and pests, and changes to the availability of food and water.
- Tourism and recreation
Outdoor recreation, tourist economies, and quality of life are reliant on benefits provided by our natural environment that will be degraded by the impacts of climate change in many ways.
See this Current Context for information relating to sea level rise
- The natural environment
Continued changes to Earth’s climate will cause major disruptions in some ecosystems. Some coral reef and sea ice ecosystems are already experiencing transformational changes, affecting communities and economies that rely upon them.
See this Current Context for information on climate change’s impact on animal habitats
The reasons for concern are many, but so are the reasons to be optimistic. Leadership at the global level is taking climate change very seriously, as evidenced by the 2015 Paris Agreement where 186 nations committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Countries are incorporating more renewable energies like solar and wind into their energy systems, increasing vehicle fuel efficiency standards, protecting forests (which capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), enhancing energy efficiency for everything from lighting to industrial output, and putting in place many other important measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
California aims to be a world-leader in addressing climate change through a number of laws and programs that seek to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, including a carbon cap and trade program. California prioritizes fuel-efficient vehicles, renewable energy sources, and innovative approaches to limiting industrial, agricultural, and residential greenhouse gas emissions. With forty million residents and one of the largest economies in the world, California’s approach is not only important for its impact on the climate, but it also serves as an example of how to maintain a strong economy while also taking the needs of the environment into account. California joins many other states within the U.S., and nations from around the world, in leading the call for a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists tell us that daily choices, such as the following, can help slow climate change:
Biking, walking, carpooling or taking public transportation when possible
Using energy efficient appliances and light bulbs, unplugging electrical cords when not in use, line-drying clothes
Reducing, reusing, and recycling – from hand-me-down clothing to re-usable water bottles and grocery bags
Buying locally-grown foods
Students may want to learn more about their particular impact on the Earth by using this carbon footprint calculator, which includes recommendations for reducing impact.
As teachers, you may find some of these climate change educational resources helpful, such as sites run by NASA, GlobalChange.gov, Climate.gov, the National Education Association, and the World Wildlife Fund. This is not an exhaustive list.
How do you discuss climate change in your classroom? Please write to us at email@example.com to share strategies that work well with your students.