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CNN Presents Classroom: Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat


(CNN Student News) -- Set your VCR to record the CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat when it airs commercial-free on Monday, May 1, 2006, from approximately 4:10 - 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Miles O'Brien travels from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific to track the impact of global warming. The confusing debate over climate change that dominated the past decade has given way to a new scientific consensus: The Earth is getting warmer. Now, the debate centers on why the climate is changing, what the impact will be, and what we can do to stop it. For some, global warming is no theoretical debate; it is changing their lives right now.

Grade Level: 7 -12

Subject Areas: Earth Science, Social Studies

Objectives: The CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Melting Point: Tracking the Global Warming Threat and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  • Describe the causes and potential effects of global warming;
  • Identify real-world examples of the impact of global warming;
  • Analyze the ongoing debate over the causes and consequences of global warming;
  • Assess what international organizations, the U.S. government, state and local governments, businesses and individuals are doing to decrease the levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Curriculum Connections


    Standard 1. Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle

    Level III [Grade 6-8]

    Benchmark 4. Knows factors that can impact the Earth's climate

    Benchmark 6. Knows ways in which clouds affect weather and climate

    Level IV [Grade 9-12]

    Benchmark 2. Understands heat and energy transfer in and out of the atmosphere and its involvement in weather and climate

    Standard 13. Understands the scientific enterprise

    Level III [Grade 6-8]

    Benchmark 6. Knows ways in which science and society influence one another

    McREL: Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( link ), 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014.

    Social Studies

    Standard III. People, Places and Environments: Students will make informed and critical decisions about the relationship between human beings and their environment.

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( link) are published by the National Council for Social Studies ( link).

    Discussion Questions

    1. According to the program, how much has the global surface temperature increased in the last century? Why are many scientists concerned with this increase? What is global warming? According to the program, on what aspects of global warming do most scientists now agree? What questions about global warming are still being debated? What questions, if any, do you think still need to be addressed on the topic of global warming?

    2. What are fossil fuels? What are greenhouse gases? Where do greenhouse gases come from? Is the greenhouse effect necessarily a bad thing for the Earth? Explain. According to the program, how does the greenhouse effect lead to global warming? According to a recent United Nations report, what has been the cause of most of the warming observed over the past 50 years? What do you think are the implications of this report?

    3. According to the program, how are the following case studies indicators of the existence and impacts of global warming?

  • Inuit Eskimos in Kivalina, Alaska, in the Arctic Circle;
  • Citizens on the island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific;
  • The polar bears of Hudson Bay;
  • The marshes and coastlines of Louisiana.
  • 4. According to researcher Lonnie Thompson, how might a one-half meter rise in sea level impact human populations and property along the waters' edges? What could be the property damage costs of rising seas in the U.S., according to U.N. estimates? What additional social, economic or geopolitical consequences do experts in the program say could occur as a result of rising seas?

    5. What methods and models do scientists use to track the changes in temperature all over the Earth? According to scientists, what can these models illustrate about the warming of the Earth over the next century? Why are some scientists critical of using the existing global warming models to predict future weather patterns? What additional questions, if any, would you want to ask scientists about their climate change data collection methods and results?

    6. What has been at the center of the global warming debate during the past two decades? According to the program, why has the response to global warming moved so slowly? What charges does Russ Gelbspan make regarding the role that fossil fuel companies have played in the global warming debate? On what basis does he make these charges? How do fossil fuel companies and some climate change researchers counter these charges? Which arguments do you find most compelling? Explain.

    7. What do you think that Gus Speth means when he says, "The issue [global warming] really has shifted from the scientific debate to an economic debate and an equity debate"? What is the Kyoto Protocol? What are some reasons offered in the program why President George W. Bush did not sign this treaty? What have some fossil fuel companies done in response to international pressure to address rising greenhouse gas emissions?

    8. What are some alternatives to fossil fuels for sources of energy? Who is Jeff Martin? In what ways is his house "green"? What do you think are some of the benefits and drawbacks of living in a "green" home? Is the idea of living a "greener" life appealing to you? Why or why not?

    9. What does Senator John McCain suggest the U.S. government should do to encourage investment in alternative energy sources? Why does the Bush administration's climate change expert, Jim Connaughton, suggest that the private sector, rather than government, is more effective in finding solutions to the reliance on fossil fuels for energy? What roles do you think the U.S. government, private businesses and individuals should play in addressing the increasing emissions of greenhouse gases? Do you think that global warming is a critical issue that needs to be addressed? Why or why not?

    Suggested Activities

    1. Tracking Greenhouse Gases

    Review with students the different types of greenhouse gases referred to in the program. Explain that while some of them occur in nature (e.g., water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide), others are exclusively human-made (e.g., gases used for aerosols).

    Refer small groups of students to the Web sites below to learn more about these greenhouse gases and their sources. Then, have each group visually depict the greenhouse gases and their sources. For example, students might choose to draw city scenes on poster boards that include industries, farms, landfills and homes. Or, they may choose to produce short videos that tell stories about the potential sources of greenhouse gases in their community. After groups present their products, challenge students to identify strategies for decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the Earth's atmosphere.

    2. What's Being Done About Emissions?

    Refer students to the Web sites below to learn more about the potential effects of greenhouse gases on climate. Have students work individually or in groups to create graphic organizers ( that illustrate the potential social, political, economic, legal, environmental, personal or other impact that could result from global warming. As students present their findings, ask: What roles can international, national, state and local governments, businesses, such as energy companies, car manufacturers and waste management companies, and individuals play in addressing greenhouse gas emissions? Organize students into small groups, and have each group assume the role of one of the following:

  • International communityexternal link
  • U.S. Congressexternal link
  • The Bush administrationexternal link - White House Policies in Focus: Energy
  • Representatives from your stateexternal link
  • Representatives from the business communityexternal link, such as energy companies, waste management companies or car manufacturers
  • Localexternal link city and community representatives
  • Energy consumersexternal link
  • Inuit Eskimos in Kivalina, citizens of Tuvalu and residents of Louisiana (see program)
  • Refer students to the suggested Web sites above and additional resources below, and challenge them to identify the perspectives of their assigned groups on the issues surrounding the global warming debate. Students should also identify what measures, if any, their assigned groups are taking to address greenhouse gas emissions. Then, have groups share their perspectives and plans in a mock global warming summit. Allow each group 3-5 minutes to present its positions on the following questions:

  • How is the global climate changing?
  • What will the impact of climate change be?
  • What, if anything, do we propose to do to prevent increases in global climate?
  • As the groups formulate answers to these questions, challenge them to consider the economic, social or political implications of their decisions. After each group has presented its arguments, provide time for the class to debate the issues surrounding global warming.

    Wrap up the activity by discussing the opportunities and challenges facing different groups as they try to address the potential effects of greenhouse emissions.


    global warming, Arctic Circle, North Pole, erodes, sustains, fossil fuels, carnivores, terra firma, asteroid, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases, solar, Antarctica, equity, emissions, Kyoto Protocol, geothermal heat, wind power, hydrogen, draconian, "green"

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