This post was originally published on the Scientix blog.
“The real is less rich than the possible”
The concept of sustainability was proposed for the first time by the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, which defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Development must ensure, in other words, the coexistence of the economy and the environment. Today, “sustainability” is recognized as a key word for the society of the twenty-first century.
The idea of sustainable development is inevitably linked to the political agenda of governments, which have the responsibility of making their populations aware of its crucial importance. It is possible to reach an ever-increasing number of citizens only through research and educational practices, focusing not only on the problems that influence sustainability, but also on the possible solutions, identifying all the stakeholders to be involved, including representatives of industry, science, schools and local authorities.
The primary objective of the idea of sustainability is the attainment of a sustainable society. This achievement involves three different systems: global, social and human. All three are indispensable for the coexistence of human beings and the environment. The current crisis can be analysed in terms of the breakdown of the communication between them.
- The global system includes the entire planet (geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere), which provides natural resources, energy and a supportive ecosystem. It is characterised by wide fluctuations regarding climate and the earth’s crust, which are the subject of study of the Earth Sciences and deeply influence human activity and survival. Vice versa, the considerable increase in anthropic activities destabilizes the behaviour of fluctuations in the global system. Global warming and ozone layer destruction are two critical examples of human-induced change.
- The social system is constituted by the relationships that are created between the political, economic and industrial structures. It is strongly dependent on economic growth and technological progress, which inevitably bring about new social problems such as pollution or the growing inequality between the rich and the poor. These issues affect the social system first, then the global system as a whole. In addition, the declining birth rate in the most developed countries raises serious questions about the family as a fundamental unit of the social system. Taken together, these problems require a radical re-examination of the idea of a well-off or established society.
- The human system is the complex of the factors that influence the survival of human beings; connected to the social system, its functioning requires the creation of lifestyles and values that allow people to live well and safely. Human beings suffer from physical and emotional discomforts, often due to the inequities of the social system. An increase in these problems exerts considerable pressure on the social system in the long run. Consequently, the stress and the deterioration of the environment also affects the human system. Poverty, hunger, diseases, lack of housing and social exclusion, especially in developing countries, are typical of this trend. In extreme situations, the weakening of sustainability degenerates into wars and conflicts.
What are the problems that occur on a global scale because of the strong interactivity of the three systems and which scenarios are outlined?
Resources from Scientix repository
The following resources are good examples that you can use during your lesson dealing with global warming.
- Collection of experiments on CO2 and Greenhouse Effect
- A greenhouse as large as the earth
- Greenhouse Effect in vitro!
- Chemistry in Everyday life: Carbon cycle
- CarboSchools booklet: What we have learned, what we still don’t know and what we must do to combat climate change
- Global warming
- Health and Climate Change
- CPI: Global Warming and Seas
How do you integrate these resources into learning scenarios?
Global warming is a natural process that keeps the planet warm and hospitable for living organisms. The greenhouse effect is the warming of the earth beyond this natural process of global warming. The greenhouse effect states that gases in the atmosphere, such as CO2, might increase the surface temperature of Earth.
The resources can permit to the students observing the greenhouse effect. Perform an investigation by a scaffolding technique: they follow the instructions in the resources accessible to the links.
Then they summarize what they have learnt in the previous activities. Answering questions, they can confirm or dis-confirm their hypothesis.
Image is author’s own
Inquiry and assessment units aims to enable students to consider scientific data and determine whether or not the evidence supports the phenomenon of global warming. Additional activity presents an editorial, which the students should analyse to judge its scientific merit. This activity may be implemented at lower or upper secondary level depending on the curriculum objectives. The key skills that can be developed through these activities will permit to elaborate coherent discussions, distinguishing opinions from facts, working collaboratively following scientific reasoning. In this way, the students also enrich their scientific literacy through the evaluation and use of scientific data/information. The assessment method emphasised is that of self-assessment and rubrics are provided for students to use for evaluation of their own work. The key skills assessed were forming coherent arguments, scientific reasoning and scientific literacy, with an emphasis on the analysis and interpretation of scientific data and results. The assessment methods used include self-assessment, peer assessment, classroom dialogue and evaluation of student’s worksheets and other artefacts.
The Earth’s climate is changing ever faster, and human activities play a role in speeding up this change. Other resources give the opportunity to verify how climate change affects our health. In a related activity, using an on-line simulation game, students must sustain the health of the global community by implementing strategies and performing research in order to prevent disease and combat the effects of global warming.
Another interesting activity to be conducted in the classroom could be to estimate the impact in terms of greenhouse effect of the mobility of a class.
The same activity could be extended to the institute to lead to the election of the class with the lowest environmental impact in terms of CO2. Students could also involve their parents in research and estimate the environmental impact of their mobility.
After estimating the carbon dioxide emitted due to mobility, students could be asked to estimate the number of trees needed to fix this gas in order not to increase the greenhouse effect.
Using an on-line simulation game, students must sustain the health of the global community by implementing strategies and performing research in order to prevent disease and combat the effects of global warming.
Today, the question is no longer whether the current trend of climate heating will continue, but how and how much. The scenarios that we can foresee must take into account the complexity of the climate system. What will we need to check?
The variables involved are:
- the temperature;
- atmospheric circulation;
- extreme events;
- ice and glaciers,
- the sea level.
The direct consequences of climate change have repercussions on:
- the distribution of water resources;
- the quality of the soils that will tend to deteriorate;
- ecosystems that will no longer be able to dispose of carbon dioxide;
- the coastal marine environment that will suffer from increasingly higher levels of sea damage;
- human health: the increase in the mortality rate is predictable as well as the intensification of some heat-related diseases in the presence of dust or infections.
One thing is certain: climate change is producing an effect increasingly relevant. The factors behind climate change are complex, dynamic, interlinked, and not easy to predict.
It is therefore important to involve the younger generation in the study and in STEM professions so that they can actively contribute to making the earth still a liveable place.
Hiroshi Komiyama Æ Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Sustainability science: building a new discipline, Sustain Sci (2006) 1:1–6, DOI 10.1007/s11625-006-0007-4
Cover image: (CC BY 4.0)
Authors: Andrea Checchetti, Nectara Mircioaga, Massimo Saccoman