Global Climate Change and the Ethics of Industry

From The Island President collection, lesson plan 1 of 2

Grade Levels: High School (9–12 grade), Community College, Youth Development Organizations

Time: (90 minutes + assignment)

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Climate Change, Environmental Science, Biology, Chemistry, Sociology, Ethics, Current Events, Meteorology

Purpose of the Lesson: The Island President documents the story of one national government’s reaction to the impending threats of climate change. The Maldivian fight for its survival in the face of a rising sea level is a profound microcosm of the global situation. This lesson examines the factors behind global climate change, its detrimental ecological and cultural effects, and the means by which it can be mitigated, on both local and international levels.


Students will:

  • Examine what is meant by the term climate change and what it has in common with global warming
  • Analyze the debate surrounding climate change, consider their feelings about the issue, and discuss why they think there is such a strong reaction to this issue on both sides of the divide
  • Understand the link between climate change, political advocacy, and the international political process
  • Research the impact of climate change in their community
  • Calculate their personal carbon footprint and develop a strategy to decrease their individual and collective carbon footprint over the course of one month

Skills: Discussion and group brainstorm, analyzing media content and interpreting media messages, small group collaboration, research, strategic planning, expository writing, oral presentation


Note: All Teacher and Student Handouts can be downloaded by clicking on “Download materials” button at the left of this page

  • Film Module 1 “Climate Politics Strategy Meeting” (2:37 minutes) and Film Module 2 “Underwater Cabinet Meeting” (1:12 minutes)
  • Student Handout A: Man vs. Nature
  • Student Handout B: Film Synopsis
  • LCD projector or DVD player
  • Pens and writing paper
  • Whiteboard/blackboard and markers/ chalk
  • Computers with internet access
  • Assorted art supplies and/or desktop publishing software


Common Core: Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

Writing Standards 6–12: 6. (9–10, 11–12) Use technology, including the internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

Speaking and Listening Standards 6–12: 5. (9–10, 11–12) Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES (10.): An understanding of civic ideals and practices is critical to full participation in society and is an essential component of education for citizenship. This theme enables students to learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizens of a democracy, and to appreciate the importance of active citizenship.

National Science Education Standards Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Environmental quality

Materials from human societies affect both physical and chemical cycles of the earth. (12FSPSP4.2)

Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth, resource use, population distribution, overconsumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and the different ways humans view the earth. (12FSPSP4.3)


Time: 30 minutes

You will need: pens/pencils, paper, Student Handout A: Man vs. Nature, LCD projector or DVD player

Note: All Teacher and Student Handouts can be downloaded by clicking on “Download materials” button at the left of this page

Goal: Students will examine what is meant by the term climate change and what it has in common with global warming. They will then analyze the debate surrounding climate change, consider their feelings about the issue, and discuss why they think there is such a strong reaction to this issue on both sides of the divide.

Part 1: What Is Climate Change?

  • Instruct students to write the words climate change on the middle of a blank piece of paper.
  • Using the style of a cross word puzzle, write all the words they can think of that relate to the issue of climate change, making sure that each word or phrase shares at least one letter with the words “climate change.”
  • Let students know that they can also build on the letters from their own words to expand their brainstorming results.
  • Invite the students to share their results with the class and record a collective vocabulary of words that relate to climate change on the white/black board.

Note: As an alternative, students can work in small groups, each using a large sheet of kraft paper for their brainstorming.

  • Using these words as a guide, develop a working definition of climate change.

Part 2: Climate Change Vs Global Warming

  • There is a lot of debate about the changes that are happening to our planet, but sometimes people use the terms global warming and climate change interchangeably. Ask students to consider their definition for climate change and the ways they think it is the same or different than global warming.

  • After the discussion, provide them with this definition of the two terms from the Environmental Protection Agency website:

Global warming refers to the recent and ongoing rise in global average temperature near Earth’s surface. It is caused mostly by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Global warming is causing climate patterns to change. However, global warming itself represents only one aspect of climate change.

Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns (among other effects) that occur over several decades or longer.

Part 3: What’s All the Debate About?

  • Divide the class into pairs and distribute Student Handout A: Man vs. Nature.
  • Instruct each pair to read the summary of the climate change debate and briefly discuss their understanding of the debate and why people might choose to support either side.

“The climate change debate, as it is discussed in the mainstream media, appears to be divided into two major sides. One side argues that the current global warming is caused by human factors, while the other side insists it is occurring because of natural forces. In the latter argument, two natural causes that dominate the conversation are solar changes and changes to the Earth’s orbit.”

“Hundreds of scientists around the world have conducted research that show human activities contribute the most to today’s climate change. We are changing the Earth’s atmosphere by emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, most of which comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Other human activities include agriculture and changes in land-use patterns. They all work to tip the Earth’s energy balance by trapping more heat.”

“Even scientists who think human activity is the main cause of climate change don’t deny that natural changes will cause temperature fluctuations on Earth. However, their argument is that in the current cycle of climate change, the impact caused by man is far greater. But there’s no indication that the two sides of the climate change debate will reach any common ground in the near future on what scientific evidence is showing, or what policy decisions should be adopted.”

“The Brookings Institute released a report in April on the public opinion on climate change in the United States and Canada. In a survey of 2,130 people, the report found that there is a progressive decrease in the number of people who think there is ‘solid evidence of global warming’ and an increase in the number who think there is no solid evidence. In the fall of 2008, 17 percent of people did not believe in global warming. In the fall of 2010, that number had increased to 26 percent. Even though the number of climate change believers has decreased, the majority of people still believed that the Earth is undergoing global warming and most of them (61 percent of Americans and 57 percent of Canadians) felt it was a ‘very serious’ problem.”

Excerpted from:
"The Climate Change Debate: Man vs. Nature"
Anuradha K. Herath, Astrobiology Magazine, October 5, 2011 via


Distribute Student Handout B: Film Synopsis. Once the students have reviewed the summary explain that they will watch two brief excerpts from the film. Use the following prompts to guide discussion:

  • What do you expect to learn by watching this film? What expectations do you have of the story?
  • What is the difference between a narrative and documentary film?
  • Have you ever seen a documentary film? If so, what was it about? Do you have a favorite documentary? What do you like about it?
  • Who is a world leader (past or present) or political figure that you admire? What about his/her leadership do you like? What questions would you ask of him/her if given the opportunity?
  • What do you know about the archipelago nation of the Maldives?
  • What do you know about the 2009 Climate Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark?


Time: 10 minutes

You will need: Module 1: “Climate Politics Strategy Meeting”, Module 2: “Underwater Cabinet Meeting,” pens/pencils, paper, LCD projector or DVD player

Instruct students to take notes while watching the film module and record quotes that illustrate the debate about global warming and its impact on the Maldives.


Time: 50 minutes

You will need: pens/pencils, white/black board, computers with internet access

Goal: Students will participate in a guided discussion about The Island President and research the impact that climate change is having around the world as well as in their community. They will calculate their carbon footprint and develop a strategy to decrease their individual and collective carbon footprint over the course of one month.

Part 1: Discussion Questions

Review the quotes and notes that the students recorded while watching the film modules and continue the discussion using the following prompts:

  • What surprised you most when watching these film modules? Is there any part of the film that stood out for you?
  • Mark Lynas, an Oxford environmental researcher states, “All this time that we’ve spent talking and all of these meetings we’ve had in Copenhagen and everywhere else, the temperature’s rising. And I think people forget that.” (Film Module 1: Climate Politics Strategy Meeting)
    • Why do you think the filmmakers chose to include this line by Mr. Lynas? What is rhetorically impactful about the premise of this statement? What is the fallacy of the argument?
    • The removal of carbon from the atmosphere is one climate change solution that is touched on in this conversation. What methods and technologies currently exist that facilitate this process? Do you believe government investment in climate change mitigation should be devoted to the removal of harmful greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, or a combination of both? Based on your research, which strategy would likely be more efficient?
  • Lynas also states, “If the Maldives can do it in 10 years, 100 percent, why is the rest of the world desperately trying to avoid doing 10 percent over 30 years?” (Film Module 1)
    • What do you think the answer to this question is? Why do so many governments resist committing their nations to a reduction in carbon emissions? What are the political disincentives, if any? Do you agree with Nasheed that many governments simply refuse to believe the science?
  • President Mohamed Nasheed: “We need to get India, China, and Brazil.” (Film Module 1)
    • Why does Nasheed target these three nations in his plans to recruit support for atmospheric carbon reduction worldwide? What challenges do you expect most small nation governments face in pursuing negotiations with large, industrialized nations?
  • How would you describe Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting (Film Module 2: Underwater Cabinet Meeting) and its symbolic or metaphorical significance? What objective do you think Nasheed had in mind? How successful do you think the Nasheed administration was in its first two years of bringing global attention to the Maldives’ unique situation? Do you believe a visual “stunt” such as this can have a more resonant impact on others’ perspectives than mere words? Why or why not?
  • What role does the visual news media play in affecting social change, or influencing public opinion on an issue? How can it be manipulated?

Additional Discussion Questions:

  • President Mohamed Nasheed: “Maldives is a frontline state. We know that Maldives becoming carbon neutral is not going to stop us from annihilation. But at least we can die knowing that we’ve done the right thing.”
    • How do you feel about this quote from President Nasheed? Do you agree that transitioning to carbon neutrality is “the right thing” morally? How effective do you consider this argument to be? Do you believe that appealing to others’ sense of moral obligation is the best way to achieve foreign support?
  • President Mohamed Nasheed also said, “Well, it’s a human right. We cannot not talk about our existence as a country. We’ve been there for the last 3,000 years. We have a culture, we have a language, we have a civilization.”
    • Compare this argument to the one above. Do you believe that rhetorically framing the situation in this way has more or less of an impact? Why? Do you believe that cultural preservation is a human right? Are there other ancient world cultures that are under threat of extinction? What factors imperil them, if not rising sea levels?

Part 2: “What Climate Change Just Might Ruin”

  • Divide the class into pairs or small groups and instruct them to review this Huffington Post article and slideshow. Online Resource: “What Climate Change Just Might Ruin
  • Ask each group to identify the impact of climate change on every day life in different areas of the world, including their own.
  • Have them identify 2 - 3 ways that they expect their own lifestyles/habits to be affected by climate change as well as 2 - 3 ways they expect their school or community will be affected over time. They should discuss the following as a group:
  • Which of the following do you expect will be affected by climate change and how do you think your life might change as a result?
    • Your favorite foods or beverages
    • Your means of transportation
    • Your medical care
    • Your entertainment
    • Your means of communication

Part 3: What Size Is My Carbon Footprint?

  • Instruct the groups to use the Zero Footprint Youth Calculator to calculate their individual carbon footprints. Then, have the students estimate what their group’s collective carbon footprint might be.
  • Ask the groups to discuss their results and identify:
    • The top three contributors to their carbon footprint
    • What they are currently doing that helps to limit their carbon emissions
  • Using the Green Schools Initiative resources as a guide, instruct each group to develop a plan of action to reduce their collective carbon footprint
  • To track their progress, each group should create a chart illustrating their current carbon footprint and their goal to shrink their footprint over the course of one month. Each member of the group should update their chart each week and compare their results at the end.

Note: The Cool School Challenge also offers suggestions on how to expand the activity to include the whole school.

Online Resources:

Explore a Local Ecosystem

  • As a class, select a specific ecosystem in your region (or elsewhere). If it’s sufficiently accessible, consider visiting as a group.
  • Identify its ecological and geological characteristics. What type of plant life inhabits it? What type of animal life? How would you describe its current climate? To what extent are its immediate atmosphere and natural water resources influenced or manipulated by human civilization? What are some distinct ecological effects you anticipate if the average annual temperature of that specific region were to rise by five degrees Fahrenheit? Fifteen degrees Fahrenheit?
  • Alternatively, divide into small groups and assign each an ecosystem. Each group will research the specific effects of atmospheric warming on their designated ecosystem and share their findings with the class.
  • Some ideas for region types: deserts, forests, coastal, coral reefs, rainforests, lakes/rivers, glacial, etc. Some sample effects: bird migration, species extinction, decline in agricultural yield, disease perpetuation, ice melt, ocean acidification, storm pattern changes, etc.

Start a Climate Change Awareness Campaign

  • Divide the class into groups of 3 - 5 students and instruct each group to select an aspect of the climate change issue to explore for this activity.
  • Have each group research their topic and develop an awareness campaign to share with their school community. Suggestions include:
    • Contact a climate change NGO about partnership opportunities
    • Conduct a fundraiser on behalf of a climate change NGO
    • Create a class website devoted to exhibiting the students’ climate change studies and projects
    • Start a print awareness campaign around campus (posters, stickers, etc.)
    • Host an awareness and/or charity event for families, other classes, or the local community

Improve Your School’s Water Conservation

Begin a water conservation initiative on your campus.

  • Have students work in groups to calculate their collective water footprints using the online resources listed below.
  • This can be a multi-day activity that involves raising awareness about the importance and impact of water conservation by creating a multimedia campaign using social networks, posters, blogging, or creating a video PSA.
  • It can also be executed as a one-day activity targeted to water conservation in the school community.
  • Have each group identify an area where water is being wasted or misused and create posters to raise awareness including posting signs in bathrooms or at drinking fountains.

Online Resources

  • USGS Drip Calculator: This calculator helps estimate how many gallons per day and per year are wasted from a leaky faucet. A simple concept, but it all adds up! Students will need to know how many drips per minute and how many leaky faucets they have.
  • Water Footprint Calculator for Kids: Nearly 95 percent of your water footprint is hidden in the food you eat, energy you use, products you buy, and services you rely on, in addition to the water you drink, bathe, and flush with. Estimate how much water you use with this online calculator.
  • You can use this quick or extended calculator to look at your personal water footprint, or at the global, national, or corporate water footprints of other entities.
  • Film module:
    Film Module 1: Climate Politics Strategy Meeting
  • Film module:
    Film Module 2: Underwater Cabinet Meeting
Download lesson materials