Climate Civics Toolkit

Welcome to the first ever

Climate Civics Toolkit

In response to the global pandemic, summer camp and many other typical comforts will be drastically different. We wanted to support educators and parents around the world in supplying high-quality, reliable education materials to keep students engaged, safe and learning over the summer months. 

This toolkit is designed for educators, parents or motivated students who want to explore ways to learn more about the local impacts of climate change and what it means to be an active participant in community civic action. This resource is very flexible to best suit your needs: the activities can be done all together or spread out over time for year-round climate exploration.

Activities in this toolkit have a week’s worth of activities and lessons for learners ages 8-18 and beyond.

Climate & Civics Lessons

Background

Plastic pollution is one of the most visible sources of pollution. We see plastics everywhere in our daily lives and those same plastics, more often than not, end up harming our Earth’s waterways, natural landscapes and ecosystem health. The use of plastics is also increasing at a rapid rate. Humans produce over 300 million tons of plastic annually, half of which is to produce single-use plastic items that will be discarded minutes after use. Unfortunately, waste management systems are not able to handle this volume of plastic, and more than 79% of plastic ever produced has ended up in landfills.

Plastic pollution affects all countries regardless of economic status, but can disproportionately impact nations who do not have well developed waste management systems. Wealthy countries, such as the United States and U.K., often exacerbate the problem by creating more waste than they can manage and resort to exporting it overseas. However, many importing countries have plastic management programs where plastic is burned or left in landfills . This contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and respiratory health issues within the communities breathing in the fumes. These impacts are most often felt in low-income and marginalized communities.

Other species on Earth are also harmed by plastic pollution. In oceans, marine animals mistake many types of plastic for food and ingest them. This puts them at risk of absorbing the toxic chemicals found inside plastics, and these toxins can accumulate throughout the food web. Animals, including humans, that consume animals with these toxins can be impacted as well. Many of the toxins harm habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and even the ocean floor that reaches thousands of meters deep. Some studies have found that these chemicals can also disrupt the reproductive systems of some species, which can cause population decline. Plastic debris in the water is also responsible for entangling or harming species. Straws have been found in turtles’ noses and soda can rings can get caught around the necks of many species. The fishing industry is responsible for a large portion of dangerous plastic debris in oceans. Sea life of all sizes have been caught and tangled by discarded fishing nets. This problem continues to worsen as over 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean yearly.

Manufacturers are finding ways to make plastics more durable, which increases their lifespan and in turn makes them hard to break down. As a result, microplastics, or tiny plastics that have been broken down over the years but cannot dissolve completely, linger in the environment for centuries and pose a danger to animal life and human health. We may not realize it, but plastic is prevalent in many of our household products and even drinking water. This issue continues to increase in gravity because as plastic production trends continue, our technology and filtration systems cannot manage the volume of plastic pollution, both large and small. Plastic microfibers from our clothes make up a primary source of plastic in our water and air. While dryers have filters to catch plastic microfibers, most washing machines do not. In the first few washes of a new cloth item, millions of plastic fibers will drain into the water system and slip past many community filtration plants. Scientists have even discovered evidence of microplastics accumulating in clouds and falling to Earth inside rain droplets.

Global plastic production is a huge, complex issue that will require governments, companies and citizens to work together to make a difference. There are many ways every person can work to improve their own personal plastic footprint, and advocating for businesses and elected officials to take action is a great way to use your civic voice!


Activities

BEGINNER

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Learn to identify different types of plastic and reduce how often you use them. You can also check your city recycling guidelines to see which plastics should be going into your recycling bins. Share your knowledge with your peers and family.
  • Buy used clothing from thrift shops to reduce microfiber pollution and reduce the demand for new clothing. Donate or sell your old clothes when you’re done with them.
  • Create art from plastic materials. Think about how every object on your masterpiece could have ended up in the ocean.
  • Read some tips from our End Plastic Pollution Campaign to learn more!

ADVANCED:

Investigate the Issue:

  • Download the Earth Challenge 2020 app and become a citizen scientist to collect data on and help stop pollution (the Earth Challenge 2020 app requires access to a smartphone and either data or wifi capabilities). Next, complete this activity to learn how much plastic is generated by different countries per year. How do countries around the world deal with plastic pollution?
  • Become an Adventure Scientist to gather data to address global microplastic pollution.
  • Follow pages 24-29 of this Education and Discussion Guide for more activities to address plastic pollution.

Advocate for Change:

  • Create a week for your community to stop using plastic materials. Reflect on how difficult it was and build momentum to eventually go plastic-free.
  • Learn how to advocate for plastic bag laws within your communities and lobby your local legislators for support.
  • Come together with your community to call your local legislators for support of current bills that reduce plastic pollution.
  • Read some tips from our End Plastic Pollution Campaign to learn more!

Analyze the News:

  • How is plastic pollution connected to Covid-19? Read this article by Vice in India on how plastic pollution is expanding during the global pandemic and what this means for recycling and single-use plastics.
  • How is plastic pollution connected to environmental justice? Read this article how the mass production of plastics and its pollution and waste disproportionately impacts communities of color.

Background

The vast number of different kinds of species in an ecosystem is called biodiversity. Biodiversity is an important aspect of any ecosystem, it is the natural balance of species and habitats that work together to keep local ecology functioning properly. However, it is repeatedly threatened by human activities such as deforestation, overhunting, pollution and climate change. Many plant and wildlife species are going extinct, biodiversity and species populations are declining worldwide

The loss of any organism can have negative chain reaction effects and threaten the integrity of all ecosystems, as well as human health. Species perform many ecosystem services, which are benefits that we freely take from the environment. Some of these services include water and air purification, pollination, food and medicine production and climate regulation. Trees, especially mangroves, are carbon sinks that store carbon and reduce atmospheric carbon levels. Therefore, when biodiversity decreases, so do the systems that regulate carbon in the environment and guard against climate change. Maintaining biodiversity and our ecosystems are critical to climate restoration.

Furthermore, biodiversity is essential to many different ways of life. Many species hold important and unique roles across cultures and as sources of income. In addition to catastrophic ecological consequences of losing biodiversity, there are many human impacts that come from the loss of species, habitats, and ecosystems. Indigenous rights to land and life are threatened globally as companies and governments continue to prioritize profit over human rights. Protecting species and communities depends on individual actions people take every day and top-down protections put in place by governments around the world.


Activities

BEGINNER

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Create or join a cleanup to help restore natural habitats and your community spaces.
  • Find an environmental organization in your area and volunteer your time. .
  • Reduce the amount of waste that ends up in your community by encouraging your family and friends to only buy what you need.
  • Use this checklist to see what you can do to help biodiversity within your community.

ADVANCED:

Investigate the Issue:

  • Download the Earth Challenge 2020 app to become a citizen scientist to collect data on insect population changes and protect pollinators. Next, complete this activity to learn more about the importance of insectsand to replicate the process of pollination.
  • Explore this interactive map to understand places of particular importance to life on Earth and how they need our care.
  • Explore these virtual biology lab models on species and genetic biodiversity.

Advocate for Change:

  • Create your own or join a cleanup to help restore natural habitats and your community spaces.
  • Fundraise for organizations that support biological diversity and endangered species.
  • Check out SciSctarter to explore a wealth of other local and global citizen science projects.
  • Contact your government representatives to support species conservation efforts. Learn more about the connections between climate change and biodiversity loss from our Conservation and Biodiversity Campaign

Analyze the News:

  • How is biodiversity connected to Covid-19? Read this interview from a Boston University professor on how the pandemic is impacting global biodiversity and research efforts to protect it.
  • How is biodiversity connected to environmental justice?Indigenous communities have long been excluded from conversations of land conservation and species protection despite their extensive knowledge of local, natural systems. This article details the experiences of native people across Canada and their relationship with nature.

Background

Environmental justice refers to the equal ability that people of all races, national origins and incomes have to be protected against environmental burdens and health concerns. It is achieved when everyone has equal protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision making process for a healthy environment. Race and social class play a large role in determining where environmental injustices most frequently occur. Low-income, indigenous and/or communities of color are disproportionately on the front lines of climate change and environmental disasters.

Highways, factories, landfills and toxic waste sites are intentionally placed near or even in low-income and predominantly Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities. This leads to higher rates of health problems such as respiratory issues, congenital defects and cancer clusters. Following climate disasters, these populations are often given little access to resources and support.

In addition to toxic chemicals and pollution from industry and development, BIPOC communities are also often exposed to waste from large animal agriculture farms. There are many examples of clearcutting biodiversity hotspots for cattle grazing and monoculture crop farming which can displace indigenous people from their traditional lands. Though indigenous communities now only represent approximately 5% of the world’s population, they live on land that supports 80% of the world’s biodiversity. When we strip their lands and cultures, we destroy the centuries-old knowledge that is necessary to protect the environment.

Taking action for the environment is deeply interconnected with racial justice. When teaching about each of these toolkit issues, you cannot separate them from impacts on humans, and how laws and systems currently in place perpetrate environmental and racial injustices.


Activities

BEGINNER

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Research an environmental justice issue and bring it to light in your community and social media.
  • Start or join your school’s environmental club to become an activist at school.
  • Encourage your community to reduce waste to limit incineration and landfill usage.
  • Learn about example service projects to understand and impact environmental justice.

ADVANCED:

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Volunteer with an organization that advocates for environmental justice.
  • Search environmental committees in your local governments. Advocate for an environmental justice chair to ensure that all environmental decisions are informed by justice in the community.
  • Learn about example service projects to understand and impact environmental justice.

Analyze the News:

  • How is climate equity connected to Covid-19? Read this article from the UN World Food Programme to learn more about how Covid-19 is impacting food security across Latin America.
  • How is climate equity connected to environmental justice?This article from Global Citizendraws the connection between climate change and poverty in our most vulnerable communities across the globe.

Background

The air we breathe is vital for the survival of humans and all other species that we share this planet with. In recent decades, an increase in quantities of particulates, chemicals and harmful gases have affected the quality of this basic requirement for life. Some of this air pollution comes from natural sources such as volcanoes, but most of it is actually caused by humans. Cars, airplanes, factories, other major industries and landfills release greenhouses gases. These gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor and ozone, retain heat in the atmosphere and make the Earth warmer. They can also travel great distances and remain in the air for extended periods of time. Therefore, although some communities may not have caused the pollution, they may be negatively impacted by it.

COVID-19 and the resulting worldwide lockdowns have shined a light on what healthier air quality could look like. In some of the most polluted cities around the world, people have reported clearer skies and fresher air than has been seen in a very long time. However, this improvement in air quality is only temporary if long-term, structural changes are not set in place.

The global pandemic has also highlighted the inequities deeply ingrained in our society. Higher infection and mortality rates are often found in communities with predominantly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations. These are also communities who disproportionately live in places with lower air quality. This trend is not just coincidental: harmful air quality typically results in long-term health issues. Indoor air pollution is also a problem which can have many negative health implications.


Activities

BEGINNER

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Reduce the impact of waste on air pollution by starting a composting program at your school or community.
  • Plant trees in your community or fundraise to plant trees with Earth Day Network’s Canopy Project.
  • Encourage your family or friends to walk or use a bike instead of a car when possible.
  • For more activities, learn 50 ways to reduce air pollution within your community.

ADVANCED:

Investigate the Issue:

  • Download the Earth Challenge 2020 app to examine air pollution in your area and what you can do to take action on this issue. Follow this activity to identify the main causes of air pollution, learn about how and where pollution spreads and connect this issue more broadly to climate change.
  • Follow this guide of air quality activities and learn more deeply about different pollutants.
  • ExploreScience Classroom resources to learn about sources of exposure and chemical contaminants.

Advocate for Change:

  • Learn how to read air quality reports and share them to increase awareness of the issue.
  • Petition for your local government to create a plan for a carbon-neutral framework and furthermore, to create a green stimulus for after the pandemic.
  • Petition for the removal or renovation of fossil fuel plants in vulnerable communities to ensure the health and safety of everyone who lives nearby.
  • Advocate for alternative, sustainable energy sources that have less impacts on air quality.

Analyze the News:

  • How is climate equity connected to Covid-19? Explore this article from the BBC about how poor air quality can exacerbate Covid-19 in urban areas across the world.
  • How is climate equity connected to environmental justice? This article from VOX explores the intersections of Covid-19, air quality, and racial inequalities in the United States.

Background

Much like clean water and air, food is necessary to our survival. However, an inefficient global food system has compromised the ability of people to access sufficient quantities of nutritious food. The food system is a major contributor to environmental degradation around the world, as it directly and indirectly contributes to climate change through deforestation, pollution and food waste.

Forests around the world are burned and cleared for livestock pastures and crops to feed them. As we dedicate more land to host and feed large scale factory farms of pigs, cows and chicken, less fertile cropland is available to grow diverse and nutritious food meant for human consumption. When factory farms dominate the agricultural scene and family farms are phased out, this cycle perpetuates a global hunger crisis. In addition, clearing forested land destroys vital carbon sequestration services and habitat that supports countless species. These problems are all worsened by the fact that about 1.3 billion tons — or one-third of food produced worldwide — is wasted through processing and being thrown away by consumers. As food waste breaks down in landfills it releases carbon dioxide and methane which drive climate change. As climate change progresses, extreme weather events, like drought and flooding, that destroy crops will further strain a fragile system. It is a complex, interconnected system that is getting far worse than better.

This system also exacerbates equity issues surrounding hunger and nutrition, locally and internationally. Due to unequal distribution of resources and the impacts of climate change, many people are currently food insecure and can’t acquire adequate food to meet their needs. Food insecurity can increase the likelihood of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health issues. In many areas, grocery stores are miles away, and without transportation, people can be left without access to healthy foods. This is known as a food desert and it can occur in big cities, rural and suburban areas. Food deserts can be commonly found in low income and/or communities of color.

While many factors influence our decisions about what we eat, there are many ways in which we can make an impact on our climate footprint by understanding our “foodprint.” Our foodprint is made up of the carbon, water and land imprint of our food choices. This encompasses everything including how our food is grown (organic vs. using pesticides and herbicides, how far our food travels, how much of our food is wasted, the packaging our food comes in and other aspects of the entire life cycle of our food choices). Decreasing your foodprint could include ideas such as adopting a more plant-based diet and buying food locally. Advocating for climate change action will also help drive societies towards developing more productive and equitable processes for feeding the world.


Activities

BEGINNER

Investigate the Issue:

  • Use your calculator for food instead of math! Try the Foodprint Calculators to see the environmental impact of your food.
  • Follow these lesson plans about choosing healthy and sustainable food and learning more about food insecurity.

Advocate for Change:

  • Create your own vegetable garden or composting system within your community or school.
  • Volunteer at a food bank or local garden, or host a fundraiser to support them.
  • Encourage your family and community to buy produce from your local farmers market to stimulate the local food economy.

ADVANCED:

Investigate the Issue:

Advocate for Change:

  • Host a food drive to donate to your local food bank. Spread the word through social media.
  • Contact your local and national officials and push for solutions to food insecurity in your community.
  • Create a resource guide that identifies healthy food sources around your community or school. Designate a food donation area in your school.
  • Explore this guide from BBC about how cutting food waste can help reduce climate change impacts to help implement change in your home, school, and community.

Analyze the News:

  • How is climate equity connected to Covid-19? Read this brief from The World Bank on how Covid-19 is impacting food security in different parts of the world.
  • How is climate equity connected to environmental justice? Explore the topics of land rights, farming and environmental justice with this article from Civil Eats.

More Resources & Activities

We invite you to use this reading guide to help you critically analyze the articles we shared in each daily theme. In order to build climate and environmental literacy, we need to ensure that learners are discerning consumers of the content they are presented. Climate science can be misunderstood, misinterpreted or ignored when it comes to implementing climate solutions that benefit or negatively impact communities in different ways. Challenge your learners to question information, seek truth and make their own judgements about new information.

Have your learners respond to these questions in writing or a discussion over dinner. Compare and contrast the articles in each day or across themes.

Critical Thinking Questions

  1. What was the main idea of this article? Was the purpose of this article to inform, persuade, entertain or activate the audience? How so?

  2. What did you already know? What did you learn?

  3. Did the author use opinions or facts? Were sources provided for statistics and statements of facts?

  4. What do you know about this source? Can you find a source that confirms or contradicts this information? Which do you agree with and why?

  5. How does this topic relate to your community? What can be done to address this topic in your community?

Appendix

Videos

Connect to News

Organizations

Resources

Videos

Connect to News

Resources

Videos

Connect to News

Organizations

Videos

Connect to News

Videos

Connect to News

Organizations

At Earth Day Network, our ultimate goal is to build climate and environmental literacy in youth around the world. We do this by two approaches;

  1. Education Policy:
    We are working with national governments around the world to gain commitments to introduce and expand climate and environmental education in school systems. These education improvements will include compulsory climate and environmental education that is standards-based, tested, across grade levels and disciplines and have a strong emphasis on civic education. Click here to learn more about Earth Day Network’s Climate and Environmental Literacy Campaign (coming soon).

  2. Education Resources:
    The second method is our tried and true education resources such as this toolkit. Visit our Education Resource Library to see the wealth of content we develop for educators and now parents to support students through learning about, and how to protect, our planet.

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