Communicating Climate Change: What's at Stake?
"Losing Earth" reveals that how you present information can be as important as the information you present. The way we communicate the science behind, predicted consequences of, and proposed solutions to climate change directly impacts public perception, policy decisions, and ultimately the future of our planet. These activities challenge students to develop the skills necessary to communicate clearly, persuasively, and creatively some of the most critical knowledge on Earth.
Climate change is one of many scientific issues widely debated among the general population, but too often with little understanding of the actual science behind it. Your students will prepare explainers about a socially or politically contentious science topic for a lay audience using the science that they have learned in class.
Get the Memo
"Losing Earth" depicts many battles for healthier U.S. environmental policy playing out on the Senate floor. Dig into the attached primary resources to explore these crucial congressional hearings. The June 23, 1988 Senate hearing "Greenhouse Effect and Global Climate Change" and May 8, 1989 hearing "Climate Surprises" allowed scientists to explain the threat climate change posed to the Earth. The attached assignment asks students to craft a memo for a Senator explaining what the scientists presented at one of these hearings. For detailed instructions, see the printable PDF attached below.
Take to the Headlines! Writing an Op-Ed
Get your class weighing in on the climate change conversation. Writing an opinion piece for a local or national news publication allows individuals within a community to share their perspective on current issues and contribute to public discourse. Need ideas? Read a piece of reporting about how people are tackling environmental issues across the globe! See the attached resources below for current, global reporting on climate change to get you started. Referencing the challenges and/or solutions described in the article, write a persuasive article about how people should tackle environmental issues.
National Geographic Climate Change Resources (Scroll down to "Clips from Years of Living Dangerously")
Writer's Workshop: Making Your Words Urgent
In section 2.5 of "Losing Earth," "You Will See Things that You Shall Believe" (46-47), Nathaniel Rich describes the extreme weather that people across the United States experienced in the summer of 1988 with a mix of data and imagery. He writes, "It was the hottest and driest summer in history. Everywhere you looked, something was bursting into flames." As a class, review this short chapter and analyze how Rich applies different writing techniques to build urgency. Where do you see metaphor, different sentence lengths, hyperbole and more? How do these techniques contribute to the urgency scientist Jim Hansen expresses as he prepares to testify before Congress in June 1988?
- Make a list of lines that pop in this section, and note the literary devices used in each line.
- Discuss which techniques most effectively communicate how the weather in summer 1988 differed from that of other summers in the United States.
- Review the photos and captions by photojournalist George Steinmetz in "Losing Earth" to explore the more recent impacts of climate change around the world.
Use your observations from Steinmetz's photos, as well as your own research about the impacts of climate change in your communities, to create a poem, essay, or speech that intentionally utilizes different literary devices to express the impacts of climate change that feel most urgent to you.
The activities listed above are designed to build on students' exploration of The New York Time Magazine's "Losing Earth," which was written by Nathaniel Rich and includes photography from George Steinmetz. For support facilitating the exercises above, or with connecting a journalist to your classroom, email firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with a member of our staff.
You can find more related educational resources at www.pulitzercenter.org/nytclimate.