FEATURED LESSON PLAN: “A Daunting Task: Cost/Benefit Analysis of Acting on Global Warming”


Lesson Objectives:

Students will:

  • Examine the costs and benefits of the continued use of fossil fuels, developing fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable resources
  • Analyze the political, economic and social costs and benefits of addressing issues surrounding global climate change


Materials Needed:

  • Internet access
  • Copy of the FRONTLINE documentary HEAT or access to the HEAT Web site
  • HEAT Teacher’s Guide and student handouts
  • Six large sheets of butcher paper, felt pens, pencils, pens.



  • CAFÉ Standards (Corporate Average Fuel Economy): Government standards that establish the average fuel economy (in miles per gallon) for a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. (Source:
  • Cap-and-Trade Program: A flexible environmental regulation that sets an overall limit on the emission of certain pollutants, but allows companies to buy “carbon credits” to pollute over the limit or sell carbon credits when they don’t. (Source: ProQuest Information & Learning)
  • Clean Coal: Coal for which efforts have been taken to reduce the emission of pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. (Source: ProQuest Information & Learning)
  • Climate Change: Long-term alteration in global weather patterns, especially increases in temperature and storm activity, regarded as a potential consequence of the greenhouse effect. (Source: Encarta Dictionary)
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis: A method of project evaluation that compares the potential benefits with the anticipated costs (Source: Encarta Dictionary)
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): An organization created in 1998 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The IPCC produces climate change assessment reports on the basis of scientific and technical information. (Source: IPCC Web site)
  • Kyoto Protocol: An international agreement negotiated in 1997 that aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the presence of greenhouse gasses. (Source:
  • Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (2008): A bill presented in the U.S. Senate to establish a cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions. (Source: EPA Web site)


Time Needed:

  • Opening Activity (optional): 20 to 30 minutes
  • Main Activity:
    • Viewing and gathering information: 20-30 minutes (for each program segment)
    • Discussions over segment material: 30 minutes
    • Discussion on accumulated cost/benefit charts: 30 minutes
    • Research and writing of persuasive letter (time will vary)


Opening Activity (Optional)
Invite students to share some of the ways they can be (or are) environmentally responsible. Choose a few actions and ask students to list the associated costs and benefits. Encourage students to consider costs and benefits beyond themselves, such as to the producers of the products or services, the government and the environment.


Main Activity

  • Divide the class into six groups and distribute the handouts, butcher paper and writing implements to each group.
  • Review the directions at the top of the handouts with students.
  • Provide time for students to view the program segments either from the FRONTLINE Heat Web site or from the DVD. (This can also be assigned as homework.)
  • Help facilitate students’ small group discussions and chart creation.
  • Ask a representative from each group to present an overview of their group’s findings to the class.
  • Invite all students to review the posted charts, then discuss the following questions as a whole class:
    • Where do you see similar patterns or courses of action taken by different governments, industries, or populations?
    • Review how the United States and countries in Asia and Europe are addressing climate change. What similarities and differences do you see in the attitudes of each country’s government and leaders, industries and/or citizens?
    • Discuss why government, industry and the public play a larger or smaller role in each energy area.
    • What are some of the challenges for countries to develop an all-inclusive plan involving government, industry and the public in addressing climate change?
    • Which country do you feel has the most important role to play in addressing global climate change and why?


Activity Assessment:
Have students choose one method or policy that they feel offers the most benefit for the least cost. Using what they've learned from the activity, students will write a persuasive letter to their member of Congress to advocate for the one method or policy they have chosen, explaining its costs and benefits and the reasons why the student thinks it should be pursued.


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