This Earth Day, vow to keep your eye on the prize—protecting our planet

This Earth Day, vow to keep your eye on the prize—protecting our planet
Protect her Earth!

In my mind, every day is Earth Day. I try to create public awareness of environmental issues, like the greenhouse effect, because I believe that climate change is the most pressing problem on the planet. Our human activity (pollution) creates greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s the reason it’s called the greenhouse effect. It’s as if the Earth was trapped in a greenhouse. When the sun shines, the temperature in that greenhouse gets hotter and hotter. The most serious greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane. Sadly, most people don’t recognize the potency of methane; it can trap up to eight times more heat than the other greenhouse gases.

What can you--as a teacher or parent--do to raise consciousness about this topic? Make sure that your student understands the greenhouse effect. The simplest way to simulate the greenhouse effect is to have students describe what it feels like to enter a car on a hot summer day. Stifling, right?  That's what happens to trapped air.  It grows hotter and hotter.

Another effective way to simulate the greenhouse effect is to have your student or child conduct a simple experiment on the temperature of trapped air versus circulating air. Kids love to investigate!

All you need is:
Two thermometers
A two liter plastic bottle
A sunny spring or summer day

Leave the thermometers out for a few minutes so that they can reach the outside temperature. Then, place one thermometer inside the plastic bottle and flip the bottle upside down so that the air is trapped--no circulation. Place the other thermometer right next to the bottle. Chart the differences over equal intervals. For specifics, see, the Greenhouse Effect in a Jar

Once your students have a sense of the greenhouse effect, the world really is their "oyster." Try placing thermometers on the blacktop or in a forest. What's the difference in temperature?  Chart it.  Take a look at graphs on rising temperature since the Industrial Revolution.  The patterns are scary.

Track the news on climate change. Evidence surfaces daily.  Show your students Vice President Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth." Plan environmental projects at school. Every June, the Chicago Botanic Garden sponsors World Environment Day. That’s a great forum for observing, presenting, and discussing environmental issues.

Start small, but think big. Since the time my students and I first ran that experiment, I’ve taught hundreds of students about climate change, worked on local environmental causes, formed a local environmental group, lectured, wrote articles, participated in an international climate change mission to Antarctica, and attended the climate change talks in Copenhagen (“COP 15”) as a UN observer. I’m happy to share resources and ideas.

But most of all, I hope that you celebrate Earth Day everyday. The world is your oyster.  Take good care of it!

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