Friday, December 11, 2009

The 4th Grade Perspective

I recently had a chance to talk to my son's 4th grade class about global warming. What a great experience! My basic talk centered on separating what we know from what we're trying to understand. I explained that global warming is real - regardless of your beliefs on the causes, 5 of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past decade. I also shared that the Earth can warm for a variety of reasons - volcano eruptions, changes in the sun, and increases in greenhouse gases.

Talking about greenhouse gases showed just how complicated it gets, though. "Are greenhouse gases bad?" I asked. "Yes, no, maybe," were their responses. True enough. I explained that these gases (everything from CO2 to methane to water vapor) are what allow Earth to soak up the warmth of the sun as it has for millions of years. Have we put the delicate system out of balance lately with all our production of these gases? Probably.

"Who is the country that produces the most CO2 each year?" I asked. "Canada? Russia?" Partly right, but we're right there too. Whether we're looking at total emissions or per capita emissions, the US is one of the top 3 producers. For total emissions it's China, US, Russia. For per capita emissions, we share that distinction with Australia and Canada.

"Should we limit our production of greenhouse gases?" I asked. "Yes! Definitely!" Ahh... the enthusiasm of children!

"Are you willing to live in smaller houses? walk to school? take less airplane rides?" I asked. "No! Never!" Ahhh.... the spoiled Americans that we are. We want everything to be better, but we also like everything just the way it is.

Of course, there aren't any immediate answers, but I'm excited that today's kids are at least studying these issues. After all, they are the leaders, consumers, and scientists of tomorrow.


  1. Nice touch. It is hard to put things into perspective for kids. Well done. AMLD

  2. Sometimes I think the kids get it better than the adults!