Global Environmental Issues

By Beckrich, Amanda | The Science Teacher, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Global Environmental Issues


Beckrich, Amanda, The Science Teacher


As our society becomes increasingly globalized, environmental issues continue to grow. Issues that once only concerned people on faraway continents are now facing all of us. This month, I present a few global environmental issues and suggest a classroom activity for each.

Tragedy of the commons

The term refers to the consequences of exploiting limited resources shared by many people (Hardin 1968), such as clean air, fresh water, and biodiversity. This fundamental concept should be addressed early in any environmental science course.

Activity: In the Environmental Literacy Council's "Tragedy of the Commons" lab, students "fish" in a common "lake," using plastic spoons and candy (see "On the web"). Students fish the lake population to extinction, demonstrating a tragedy of the commons. Discussion questions address prevention methods.

Climate change

Climate change is a complex global environmental issue that is crucial to cover in any high school environmental science classroom, especially given that the United States is second only to China in overall carbon dioxide emissions (Union of Concerned Scientists 2010).

Activity: Facing the Future offers a downloadable, twoweek climate change unit that encourages students to think critically about climate change and devise solutions (see "On the web"). Students learn climate change fundamentals and examine interconnections among environmental, social, and economic issues.

Biodiversity loss

Biodiversity is the variety of life at all levels, from local ecosystems to the global biosphere. The current species loss rate exceeds that of the past by several orders of magnitude (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). Biodiversity loss results from our destruction of natural habitats (AAAS 2001) and the introduction of invasive species into habitats (UNEP 2011).

Activity: The Cornell Environmental Inquiry Program's Invasion Ecology curriculum enables students to research invasive species (see "On the web"). Students learn about the links between biology and ecology and explore how scientists are fighting invasive species with biological controls.

Food and water security

Ensuring that all people have safe, clean, and reliable sources of food and water is a global environmental issue. Thirteen percent of the world's population lacks access to clean drinking water (WHO and UNICEF 2008), and over one billion people are undernourished (FAO 2009). Students should understand the global impacts of this lack of food and water security.

Activity: Screen the agriculture-focused documentary Food, Inc. (Kenner and Pearlstein 2008) and guide students in a discussion, using the curriculum developed by the Center for Ecoliteracy (see "On the web"). This downloadable teacher's guide provides questions and activities about the film's themes, including health, sustainability, animal welfare, and workers' rights. …

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