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“The State of the Planet” takes a brief look at four different environmental topics: water issues, the threat of food shortages, human population growth, and global warming. These issues are likely to have a significant impact on the future well-being of Earth’s environment and the people who depend on it for their needs and wants. At the root of these issues is a dramatic human population growth rate that is putting ever-increasing pressure on the Earth’s resources and natural systems. Most of this growth is occurring in the world’s poorer countries, putting enormous strains on their water supplies and ability to feed their citizens. “State of the Planet” discusses how food and water problems are threatening the future of developing countries.

But environmental problems are also affecting the United States; for example, “The State of the Planet” illustrates how water shortages are threatening agriculture in the United States. Population growth is also increasing in the United States, and this is of major global significance because U.S. citizens, on average, use far more energy and natural resources than people elsewhere. Our energy consumption, chiefly our burning of the fossil fuels coal and oil, is the main cause of human-created global warming. As our numbers increase so will our environmental impact. At present, global warming presents perhaps the most difficult and serious environmental issue confronting the world today.

Yet, increasingly, people are focusing their commitment and ingenuity on solving environmental issues, and “The State of the Planet” takes a look at some of these. These examples serve as a beacon of hope that ultimately we will learn to live in harmony with the planet’s natural systems and ensure a bountiful future for us and for future generations.

Previewing Activities

If students do not know the following locations, use a wall map, desk map, or atlas to familiarize them with the geographical areas profiled in the video:

Great Rivers

  • Amazon River
  • Nile River
  • Amu Darya River
  • Colorado River
  • Ganges River
  • Yellow River
  • Rio Grande River
  • Mississippi River
  • Yangtze River


  • Bangladesh
  • Zimbabwe
  • China
  • Haiti
  • Israel (Negev Desert, Israel)


  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Shanghai, China
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Paris, France
  • London, England
  • Calcutta, India
  • Melbourne, Australia

United States locations

  • State of Louisiana
  • State of Pennsylvania
  • Falcon Dam, Rio Grande River, Texas
  • Ogallala Aquifer, Great Plains
  • Glacier Bay, Alaska (Photo, but not identified in text)
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Gulf of Mexico

The following terms are used in the video and may need to be introduced to students:

  • Aquifer: An underground source of water
  • Commerce: Buying and selling goods and services
  • Commodity: A product that can be bought or sold
  • Communal Farm: A farm that is owned by a group of people
  • Deprivation: Lacking sufficient amounts of the basic necessities of life, such as food, water, housing, and health care
  • Developing World: Regions and countries of the world where people have little money or economic opportunity and where living conditions are inadequately providing for people’s needs and wants
  • Drought: When less precipitation (rain and snow) than usual has been falling, which typically creates great problems for plants, animals, and people
  • Ecosystem: How everything – plants, animals, soil, weather, etc. - in a certain place – a school yard, a park, a region, etc. – is interconnected
  • Epidemic: A disease affecting many people at the same time
  • Erosion: Soil washing or blowing away
  • Family Planning: Having only as many children as you have decided you want
  • Fertility Rate: The average number of children being born to women in a particular group
  • Floodplain: Land that sometimes is covered by water from overflowing rivers, streams, and lakes
  • Fossil Fuel: Fuels, such as coal and petroleum, that formed from ancient plants and animals
  • Fungicide: A chemical that kills fungi
  • Genetic Engineering: Changing the genes of living things so that the living things are somehow different
  • Global Economy: The buying and selling of goods and services around the world
  • Ice Cap: Vast sheets of ice, sometimes over two miles thick, that are covering the far northern and southern regions (Arctic and Antarctic) of the planet
  • Insecticide: A chemical that kills insects
  • Irrigation: Artificially watering plants. Drip irrigation sprinkles water onto plants
  • Life Expectancy: The average lifespan of a group of people
  • Malnourished: Not having enough of the nutrients needed for good health
  • Mega-cities: Truly large cities, such as New York, Sao Paolo, Beijing, and Mexico City
  • Mulch: A covering of wood chips or some other plant material that people put on the ground to protect the soil and help plants grow
  • Non-profit Organizations: Organizations that are primarily trying to help society, not make money
  • No-till Farming: Planting crops without plowing the soil first
  • Renewable Resource: A natural resource that can replace itself, such as trees and fish
  • Sanitation: Preventing disease and keeping people healthy by keeping clean the places where people live
  • Sewage: Human waste that goes into pipes and usually ends up in rivers, lakes, and oceans
  • Shantytown: A town that people on their own just constructed with whatever materials they happened to find. They are usually built next to cities and usually lack basic services like running water and electricity. Typically, only the very poor live in them.
  • Squatter Settlements: Homes that people build on land that they do not own, such as ranches and pastures
  • Turbine: A machine that generates electricity, primarily by revolving magnets around cables of wire
  • Wastewater: Water that carries the wastes from human activity, including wastes from industries, households, and the surfaces of streets and sidewalks

Previewing Discussion

To help students put the video in perspective, ask them the following questions:

  1. What do you hope for when you are out of school and on your own?

    (Possible answers: A nice house, a good job, a family, good health, a lot of money, opportunities for recreation, a long life, world peace)
  2. For your hopes and dreams to come true, what will you need from the Earth? What natural resources will you need to have a quality life?

    Possible Answers:
    • Clean air
    • Clean water
    • Good soil for agriculture
    • Coal, oil, and/or other sources of energy
    • Minerals and metals
    • Forests for wood, construction materials and other products
    • Space to prevent crowded living
    • Wild animals for what the important jobs they perform in nature (e.g. pollination, making soil fertile) and for what they provide us (food, enjoyment).
    • Freshwater and marine fish and other sea creatures

  3. From what you have heard and read, are there any environmental problems that are threatening the future well-being of these resources? If so, what might they be?

  4. Possible answers:
    • Air pollution
    • Water pollution
    • Soil erosion
    • Depletion of oil, coal, and mineral resources
    • Overfishing
    • Loss of wild plants and animals (biodiversity)
    • Deforestation
    • Global warming

  5. This film takes a look at four critical environmental issues that will have a large impact on your future: Human population growth, water pollution and abundance, abundance of food, and global warming. What do you know about these issues? (You can make a list of student answers on the board)
  6. From what you know now, how do you think your world will be in 40 years or so, as far as these issues are concerned?
  7. What do you think the population of the world will be? Larger or smaller? What impact will this human population have?
  8. Do you think water will be cleaner, dirtier, or about the same as today? Why or why not? Do you think you will have as much water for your use as today?
  9. Do you think there will be enough food for everyone in 40 years? Why or why not?
  10. What do you think the climate will be like? Will it be warmer or colder or basically the same as today? What makes you think so?
  11. Do you worry at all whether the world in 40 years will be able to provide you or your children with the life that you want? Why or why not?

Viewing Activities

Segment One Topic: Introduction
Segment One introduces the film, quoting several environmental experts as they express their concerns about the issues raised in the film.

Finding Segment One (Length: 3 minutes and 3 seconds) Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a sunrise and hear “Since the first of time, before our ancestors even thought of time....” Stop when you hear “Perhaps it’s best to start with numbersnumbers that have literally shaped the human condition.”

Segment Two Topic: Threats Concerning Human Population Growth
It is hard to imagine the numbers of people on Earth as w e begin the 21st Century. Today, roughly 6.3 billion people live on the planet, each hoping to find enough food, water, clean air, housing, employment, and recreation to live happy, healthy, productive, and fulfilling lives. Our ability to take care of our environment so that it will continue to take care of us, however, has not kept pace with the increasing demands we have made upon it. As a result, our exploding human numbers have brought with them massive air and water pollution, soil erosion, and depletion of forests, wildlife, and natural habitats. Massive poverty, hunger, disease, and human misery have been the result.

Segment Two describes just how rapidly our numbers have grown and what the consequences have been. The impact has been particularly severe in the developing world. Our human population in the United States, however, is also growing. This is significant because the average American uses far more resources – food, energy, wood, etc. – than the average citizen of a developing country. Thus, we have a proportionally larger environmental impact per capita, and this impact will influence the quality of our future environment to a great degree.

Finding Segment Two (Length: 6 minutes and 38 seconds) Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a chart illustrating the rate of human population growth and hear “From the time of our prehistoric ancestors, it took until about 1800 for our planet’s population…..” Stop when you hear “This raises one of the most fundamental questions of our time: can our planet provide our population with even the basic necessities of life?”

Postviewing Discussion

  1. How long did it take for the human population to grow to one billion people? (Answer: Perhaps one million years, or as long as our species, Homo sapiens, has existed.) How long did it take to reach two billion? (Answer: 125 years) How long did it take to reach four billion? (Answer: less than 50 years) How long did it take to reach six billion? (Answer: Only 25 years) What do you notice about the rate of increase of human populations? (Answer: The rate of increase has skyrocketed in the last 200 years.)
  2. How rapidly is our population increasing today? (Answer: Roughly 78 million people/year or 10,000 children being born during the time this show was on the air)
  3. How large is Bangladesh, and how many people live there? (Answer: Bangladesh is only the size of Wisconsin but contains roughly half the people that live in the United States: around 145 million people!) Until recently, what did the average family size used to be? (Answer: Eight) What is it today? (Answer: Four) Why does the film say that this happened? (Answer: Families are better able to control the numbers of children they have, because education and birth control devices are being supplied.)
  4. Many people and organizations believe it is crucial for the future well-being of people and the environment to slow down the rate at which human populations have been increasing. Is progress being made? (Answer: Yes, the rate of human population growth has slowed significantly in recent years. Today people predict that population numbers will increase to 9.5 billion and then begin to slowly decrease.)
  5. Most population growth is occurring in developing countries. What are the chances a baby born today lives in the United States or another rich country such as Japan, Canada, Australia, or a European country? (Answer: Over five out of six people on Earth live in poor countries. If you happen to live in a rich country, you are in a true minority. Statistically, you were much more likely to be born in a poor country!)
  6. The population of the United States, however, is also growing. Why does the film say that this is significant? (Answer: Americans use far more natural resources and energy than anybody else. As our numbers increase, we will therefore use up more and more of the planet’s resources, which will have major human and environmental consequences. For instance, we burn far more coal and oil per capita to meet our energy needs. This is thought to be the main cause of global warming. With more of us, we will burn more coal and make global warming more severe, if we keep behaving the way we do today.)

Segment Three Topic: Threats Concerning Water
An irreplaceable resource, all life on Earth needs ample clean water to survive. There is no alternative. Unfortunately, both the abundance and the quality of our water supplies are at risk. This is creating problems around the globe. Increasing numbers of people in developing countries are finding it difficult to find enough clean water to drink. Waterways are continuing to choke on human waste. Water-borne diseases, many of which can be easily prevented, are afflicting millions of people in poor countries. Natural wetlands are disappearing. And water supplies, even in developed countries, are dwindling and threatening the future of farmers around the world.

Segment Three looks at these issues and also highlights several stories of human ingenuity in which water problems were successfully confronted. These stories give us hope that we will ultimately develop the commitment and the know-how to solve our water problems. The challenges we face, however, are serious.

Finding Segment Three (Length: 22 minutes and 12 seconds)
Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a scene of shallow ocean water and hear “Though our planet is covered by an extraordinary amount of water, over 97% is undrinkable seawater…” Stop when you hear “What happens to water resources is going to shape our future in ways that I don’t think we can now easily imagine.”

Post -viewing Discussion

  1. What are three water problems that are affecting people in developing countries? (Answer: water shortages, water pollution, and water-related diseases)
  2. What water problem is afflicting farmers in the United States? (Answer: water shortages) For what two reasons does the film say this is happening? (Answer: 1. Human population increase, as along the Rio Grande River, that is using increasing amounts of water; 2. Drawing down the supplies of the Ogallala Aquifer under the Great Plains faster than they can replenish themselves.)
  3. People are also destroying wetlands around the world. What are three consequences, according to the film? (Answer: 1. Loss of habitat for wild creatures; 2. Loss of a natural means of cleaning waterways; 3. Loss of areas that protect human settlements from floods. The film dramatically portrayed this last problem as floods struck the upper Mississippi River.)

Segment Four Topic: Threats Concerning Food
Most human population growth in the last 100 years has occurred in developing countries, and this has made it difficult for many of them to feed their citizens. Pressure to increase agricultural production has lead to such problems as soil erosion, exhaustion of nutrients, and overgrazing of pastures. These, in turn, make agriculture more difficult. The United States and other countries produce enough food to feed the world, but financial, political, and logistical obstacles are preventing this food from getting to all of the people who need it. As a consequence, perhaps 800 million people are going to bed hungry every night. Segment Four briefly summarizes this situation, and presents one case study – China – that is achieving marked success in increasing its food production and the number of its citizens who are getting enough to eat.

Finding Segment Four (Length: 5 minutes and 26 seconds)
Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a combine in a field and hear “This raises another question of great concern for the state of the planet.” Stop when you hear “It won’t be easy, especially when an even greater threat to the state of the planet may be looming on the horizon.”

Post – viewing Discussion

  1. According to the film, what is the main food-production problem afflicting the world today? (Answer: Food distribution, not food production. We are growing enough food to feed the world’s billions, but we are not always successful at getting the food to the people who need it.)
  2. Why does the example of China give us hope about feeding the world? (Answer: Until recently, China used to experience severe famines that killed millions of her citizens. Now very few go hungry, even though China has to feed over 1.2 billion people.) What might be threatening China’s success? (Answer: Economic pressure is causing China to expand industrial production, so factories are taking over good farmland, and skilled farmers are leaving their fields to work in them.)

Segment Five Topic: Threats Concerning Global Warming
Complicating our efforts to provide sufficient food and clean water to growing human populations is the threat of global climate change. Segment Five touches on this controversial notion, presenting several lines of evidence that human activity is actually causing Earth’s temperature to rise: heat waves in cities around the world, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and the appearance of fish and animals where they were previously unknown. The main cause of global warming is thought to be the burning of fossil fuels, but since we rely upon these fuels for most of our energy needs and since countries such as China and India are increasing their fuel consumption as they try to raise the living standards of their citizens, confronting this growing threat promises to be one of the most challenging tasks confronting us in the 21st Century.

Finding Segment Five (Length: 5 minutes and 35 seconds)
Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a summer scene in Chicago and hear “A few years ago, Chicago was at the epicenter of an extraordinary weather event.” Stop when you hear “In a warmer and dryer world, they will need new ideas.”

Post – viewing Discussion
According to the film, what are four types of evidence that global warming is occurring? (Answer: 1. receding glaciers; 2. species of plants and animals appearing in places where they have been unknown; 3. rising sea levels; 4. severe heat waves)

Segment Six Topic: Confronting Environmental Threats: New Ideas
Our environmental challenges are considerable, but a growing awareness of their seriousness is leading to new ideas in successfully addressing them. Segment Six presents a few of these successes: innovative soil management in Pennsylvania, plant breeding in Israel and Iowa, and wind generators that can do the work of fossil fuels. It is our hope that human ingenuity and commitment to meeting our environmental problems will prove equal to the environmental problems that we face.

Finding Segment Six (Length: 6 Minutes)
(Visual and audio cues: Start when you see a field and barn in Pennsylvania and hear “Five (Eight?) thousand miles away are the gently rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania.” Stop when you hear “Yet in the end, there are no easy answers, no quick fixes.”

Post – viewing Discussion

  1. The film shows several innovative measures that people are implementing to better manage our environment. What are they, and what problems are they addressing? (Answer: 1. no-till farming that reduces soil erosion; 2. plant breeding that will enable farmers to grow more crops in difficult environments like deserts; 3. wind generators that can reduce our dependence on fossils fuels, which contribute to global warming)
  2. After viewing the film, are you more or less worried about your future? What worries you the most, if anything? What do you think we need to do to ensure that you and the planet’s environment have a healthy future? What do you think we need to change?

Special Projects: The State of the Planet

Since many environmental problems facing the world today are occurring in developing countries, it is important for students to try to understand what living conditions are like in those countries. This can be a challenge, because they are so different from ours. Assign teams of 2-4 students and have them select a developing country in Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia to research. The World Resources Institute web site can be helpful. Ask them to find out the following:

  • The per capita income
  • What the economy is based upon. The percentage of the economy that is based upon agriculture, rather than industrial production
  • The average life expectancy
  • The literacy rate for both males and females
  • The infant mortality rate
  • Per capital energy use
  • How energy is generated, e.g. firewood compared with fossil fuels
  • How senior citizens are looked after

Putting all this together for themselves and others, the teams can either compose a story about a typical family in the country they have studied and read it to the class, or they can make posters illustrating how people live.

Once your class is familiar with the lives of people in developing countries, they can move on to the next activity:

What kinds of countries are undergoing the most rapid population growth? You can find out by obtaining data from the World Bank’s web site Click on Maps at the top of the page. This should produce a map revealing a map illustrating comparative population growth rates around the world. Now consult either the World Bank web site or the World Resources Institute web site to find out the following of selected countries, see how population growth correlates with the following:

  • Birth and death rates
  • Life expectancy
  • Literacy rate
  • Female/male enrollment in schools
  • Population and population density
  • Projected population growth in rural and urban areas
  • Access to water and sanitation
  • Poverty
  • Nutrition
  • Immunization Rates

These are the results your students should see:

  • Population growth rates are high when:
  • Birth rates are high
  • Death rates are high
  • Life expectancy is low
  • Literacy rates are low
  • Relatively few females are attending school
  • Access to water and sanitation is low
  • Poverty is high
  • Nutrition is low
  • Immunization rates are low

Population density does not correlate with population growth rates. Some densely populated countries, as in Europe, see very low population growth rates. Others, as in Bangladesh, see relatively high population growth rates.

Some of this data may seem counterintuitive. How is it possible for countries with the highest death rates, lowest life expectancies, most disease, and lowest levels of nutrition to have the highest population growth? Trying to make sense of this can engage your students in a stimulating and enlightening discussion. Ask your students the following:

  1. If farming depends largely on human labor, rather than machines, then how many children will you want? (Answer: A lot to help do the work on the farm)
  2. If you have no pension or social security, who is going to take care of you when you reach old age? How are you going to ensure that someone will be around to take care of you? (Answer: You want to have enough children to ensure your future.)
  3. If infant mortality is high, because many diseases are present, how are you going to ensure that enough children survive for the above two purposes? (Answer: Have a lot of children as an insurance policy.)
  4. If health services are minimal so birth control devices are hard to obtain, what might happen? (Answer: A higher number of unplanned pregnancies)
  5. In some cultures in developing countries, males consider it a status symbol to have a lot of children. Women, on the other hand, are often solely responsible for taking care of the children and often have little say in how many children they are going to have. What might this combination of factors lead to?” (Answer: Large families)
  6. Taking all of these factors into account, what might people do to reduce population growth in developing countries? (Some possible answers: improve public health services to reduce infant mortality, provide birth control devices, improve female literacy and empowerment, increase industrial development, and mechanize farming techniques)

Have your class discuss how their well-being and sense of security might be connected to the well-being of people in developing countries. They might consider:

  • Security. (Possible answers: Poverty and desperation can lead to civil strife, violence and terrorism which can threaten the United States. Illegal and uncontrolled immigration into the United States can increase. Visitors to countries with many poor and desperate people may be at risk through street crime and violence.)
  • Financial well-being. (Possible answers: Chaos and violence hurts national economies. People cannot find work, cannot buy products imported from the United States, and may require increased financial aid. The United States is often approached for help during times of political and economic instability.)
  • Environmental well-being. (Possible answers: In countries experiencing poverty and upheaval, natural resources are often put at risk. Forests are cut, wildlife is slaughtered, and natural habitats are destroyed. The loss of biodiversity and destruction of natural systems affect people worldwide in different ways.)
  • Health. (Possible answers: Countries in chaos usually cannot provide adequate medical care or sanitation for their citizens. Epidemics can appear and spread, sometimes to United States shores. Visitors to these countries many become sick there, as well.)
  • Peace of Mind. (Possible answer: Observing scenes of poverty and violence on the television or in magazines deeply disturb many people.)

Having considered these issues, your students can now debate the following: Should the United States increase foreign aid to developing countries to help them combat poverty and environmental degradation? Consider the following:

  1. The responsibility, if any, of people in the United States toward countries less well off
  2. Whether money directed to foreign aid will help us in the United States, or whether it should all be spent here instead
  3. What the relationships between the United States and developing countries would be like if the United States reduced or eliminated foreign aid. What would be the consequences?

What water issues are facing your community? Surprisingly, many if not most people know little about where the water they drink comes from, what is done to make it safe for human consumption, and where it goes after people are through with it. Ask if a member of the water department, the local environmental agency, or agricultural service can come visit your classroom. Some questions to ask:

Drinking Water:

  1. Where does our water supply come from?
  2. What potential contaminants are being monitored? Are there any that are not being looked for? Is the water department, for example, monitoring prescription drugs or caffeine, which are now showing up in water supplies?
  3. How is it treated to make it safe? Can we be sure that all potential contaminants are being detected and removed?
  4. Have there been any instances when the water was found to be unsafe? If so, what were the problems and what was done about them?

Waste Water

  1. Where does our waste water go to be treated?
  2. How is it treated? (Primary, secondary, or tertiary?)
  3. Does your community have combined sewers in which sewage from homes and industries mixes with runoff from streets and sidewalks?
  4. Where does the water go after it is treated?
  5. Are the industries in your community required to pre-treat their wastes before dumping them in the sewer system? Who monitors this pre-treatment?
  6. Have there been any instances where waste water did not meet local, state, or federal standards? If so, what were the problems and what was done about them?
  7. How polluted are the waterways in the community? What are the main pollutants? Where do they come from? How can the community reduce them?

Water Quantity

  1. Have rainfall patterns changed in the last decade or so? Is your community receiving the same amount of precipitation as before?
  2. Is your community facing an impending water shortage? If so, what is the cause (e.g. reduced rainfall, reduced runoff from upstream, depleted aquifers)?
  3. If a water shortage or drought is occurring, what have been the consequences? What does the future look like?
  4. Is it thought that any connection exists between the changed weather patterns and global warming?
  5. What can people in the community do to reduce personal water use? What can the school do?
  6. Where does runoff from the school end up? Obtain a topographic map that includes the school and note the watershed in which the school resides. Where the runoff goes will be downhill. Now take the class on a walk around the school. Note the pollutants on the grounds, e.g. oil, gasoline, and anti-freeze on the parking lots, fertilizers and insecticides applied to the athletic fields and gardens, dog waste, and litter. Locate the nearest storm drains and visit the water body into which they are likely to empty. Finally, discuss what the local environmental impact of the school is and what the school might do to reduce it.

How does the caloric intake of your students compare with that of people in developing countries? Divide your students into teams and assign to each a particular region: Asia, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America (A very easy one, only two countries), Central America and the Caribbean, South America, and Oceania. Now ask your students to consult the World Resources Institute web site for information. The path to take: 1) Begin with the web site home page, 2) Click on Earthtrends. 3) Click on About Earth Trends, then Citing Earth Trends. 4) Click on Agriculture and Food. 5) Click on Data Tables. The right hand column will be “Average Daily Per Capita Calorie Supply (a,b) Kilocalories 1999”.

Each team should then scroll down to its particular region and:

  1. Record the average caloric intake for the region
  2. Rank the countries according to their individual caloric intake.
  3. Note the countries with the highest and the lowest caloric intake

Each team should then return to the Agriculture and Food page, then 1) Click on Country Profiles; 2) Click on the countries with the highest and lowest caloric intake in their regions, and 3) Note the graph that describes the Index of Total and Per Capita Food Production. Record for each country whether the Per Capita Food Production is rising or falling.

Once everyone is finished, reconvene the class and summarize:

  1. Rank the regions according to their average per capita caloric intake. Which region sees the highest? Which region sees the lowest?
  2. Rank the countries with the highest and lowest per capita caloric intake.
  3. What 10 countries have the highest? In which regions are they found?
  4. What 10 countries have the lowest? In which regions are they found?
  5. Of the countries profiled, how many are witnessing rising or falling per capita agricultural production?
  6. A minimum healthy caloric intake is estimated to be 2350 calories/day. How many countries are below this figure? In which regions are they found?

The debate continues to rage concerning whether human activity is causing the planet’s temperature to rise, and what, if anything, we should do about it. It is very difficult for us to get accurate and current information about this issue, since so much information seems to be coming from apparently biased sources with agendas that are coloring what they tell us. Nonetheless, it is important for us to try to decide for ourselves whether global warming is occurring and whether the ramifications could be serious. If we think it is happening, then we might feel compelled to reconsider many of our day-to-day actions and decisions. Trying to separate truth from conjecture or propaganda can be a useful exercise for your students. They can apply the lessons that they learn to other situations that they encounter when they are out of school.

Ask your students to consult the internet and find out what people and organizations are saying about global warming. They may work in teams or individually. Ask them to record the following:

  1. Any straight facts or data, rather than opinion, that indicate whether or not global warming is occurring
  2. Any opinions about whether it is occurring and whether or not it is a bad thing

The organizations that claim global warming is serious and we need to do something about it. Try to put these organizations into categories, e.g. International, federal, state, or local governmental entities, environmental organizations, fossil fuel industries, political party organizations, and advocacy organizations with distinct agendas such as free markets, small government, or reduced taxes.

Repeat this process for organizations that claim that global warming is not serious.

Now ask your students to share what they have found.

  1. What do the facts suggest about global warming?
  2. What types of organizations are claiming it is human-caused, serious, and needing to be addressed?
  3. What types of organizations are claiming that global warming does not need to be addressed?
  4. What can you conclude about the organizations on each side of this debate? Why do you think they have the views they do?
  5. Overall, which side seems more compelling to you and why?

Your students can now wrap up their research with a debate. They can consider the question: What should the United States do about global warming? Some options to consider:

  1. Impose a gasoline tax so people will drive less
  2. Tax people who drive SUVs and other vehicles that use a lot of gasoline
  3. Invest tax money in energy technology like solar power and wind power that might replace burning coal and oil
  4. Invest tax money in building subways and bus lines
  5. Establishing more HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes that are restricted to people who are car-pooling
  6. Nothing

An effective way to structure a debate is to ask the students to “fishbowl.” Set up four or five chairs in the room so that they face each other. Three or four of these will be for students who will initiate the debate; they will stay for roughly 5-10 minutes. One chair will be the “hot seat”. This is for the rest of the class. If someone hears something in the debate that he/she wants to respond to, he/she may sit in the seat, make a point or ask a question, and then leave. Periodically you can tap the debaters on the shoulder and exchange them with others in the class, so that eventually everyone who wants to debate has a chance. Fishbowling gives everyone in the class both the chance to debate and the opportunity to be heard.


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Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization | State of the Planet's Oceans | State of the Ocean's Animals
State of the Planet's Wildlife | The State of the Planet | Future Conditional | On the Brink | Hot Zones
Seas of Grass | Land of Plenty, Land of Want | Urban Explosion | Rivers of Destiny

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