Carbon "Kidprints"


Big Idea

Climate change is happening, but as global citizens we have the ability to slow the rate of change by modifying our energy use and consumptive habits. We can also adapt or adjust to a changing environment in various ways. How can we empower students to take action to reduce CO2 emissions?

Data Activity

Carbon "Kidprint" - Carbon Footprint Activity for Middle- and High-School Students


Global climate change is one of the most profound challenges facing humanity today. It is a problem that will be inherited by our students and one in which they will need to be meaningfully engaged as adults. While we cannot reverse climate change, we can modify our personal behavior and contribute to community-based mitigation strategies to slow the rate of change and minimize impact on society and the ecosystems on which we rely. Because greenhouse gases are the most critical factor warming the atmosphere, any behavioral adaptation or mitigation strategy that decreases CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that are warming our planet is a step in the right direction. This module explores the personal choices students make every day as resource consumers, and how those decisions contribute to the climate health of our planet.


This module is aligned to the following national learning and curriculum standards:


In this module, you will:

  1. Identify how mitigations and adaptations to global climate change may minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Calculate how much CO2 is generated by students' consumer decisions.
  3. Explore the pedagogic importance of empowering students to take action to reduce CO2 emissions.

Keeping Notes

Set up a journal to take notes as you participate in this experience. Your journal can be an online tool or offline notebook – whichever works for you and your learning style.

Background Information

Archeological studies of past societies facing serious environmental crises evidence three ways in which societies respond. They all either suffer or die off, move away, or respond to the crisis by changing their behavior. For the vast majority of world citizens, options one and two are either unacceptable or logistically impossible. This leaves us with the problem of determining what we need to do about the changes that are already occurring in our dynamic climate system. There are two tools in our toolbox that can be applied to the problem of climate change: adaptation and mitigation.

Historically, mitigation and adaptation have been viewed as fundamentally different approaches to environmental problems. For instance, in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the authors state, "effective mitigation requires the participation of major greenhouse gas emitters globally, whereas most adaptation takes place from local to national levels." Others note that adaptations tend to be "reactive", to adjust to existing conditions, whereas mitigation is seen as "proactive" to avoid more serious consequences in the future. However, there is a growing awareness that a "proactive" approach to both adaptation and mitigation is needed if we are to limit future negative economic consequences and human suffering (Biesbroek et al., 2009).

At the national level, there are numerous options available to allow countries to mitigate climate change. These include encouraging energy solutions and technological innovation, adopting appropriate environmental regulations, and fostering international collaboration. All these actions are critical to slowing the rate of global climate change, but historically, national solutions and international agreements have been slow to set in motion. On the other hand, there are numerous examples of local, integrated initiatives where individuals can play a role in reducing emissions and simultaneously support development of local solutions to increase the sustainability and resilience of the communities in which they live. For these communities, adaptation and mitigation are combined proactively and synergistically with solutions forged at every level- from individual, family, neighborhood, to the community at large, and the distinction between adaptation and mitigation blurs.

Changing personal behavior is the first step in the process. If you insulate your home and are using less energy to heat it, is this an adaptation to higher energy prices and a desire to reduce your family's carbon footprint, or is it part of a broader mitigation effort producing fewer emissions? If we are appropriately proactive in our response to climate change, the distinction between adaptation and mitigation will be less defined.

In the module, you will look at the problem of global climate change at different scales: global, national, local, and individual. Slowing climate change to a manageable pace will require intervention, decision making, and behavior modification at all these scales, and is critical to sustainable future on this planet.


This professional development experience was funded by NASA's Global Climate Change Education Initiative. This initiative is designed to improve the quality of the nation's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and enhance students' and teachers' literacy about global climate and Earth system change from elementary grades to lifelong learners.

Global Climate Change Modules

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