Think of the Children! How I explained global warming to kids.

Harry AlperBy Harry Alper
Climate Fellow,
Clean Air-Cool Planet


Harry Alper is earning an undergraduate degree in anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is involved in environmental justice efforts and “grateful for every chance to ride bikes with friends and to serve dinner on my front porch.”  He will be working this summer on The Seacoast Science Center’s Carbon Challenge – helping the Center to make the Challenge part of their climate education offerings. He will evaluate and assist in the successful cultivation of Northeast Science Center Collaborative.   


 My work as Clean Air – Cool Planet Climate Fellow this summer has taken place in and around the bustling, unpredictable, and always fun Seacoast Science Center

I had the opportunity to discuss global warming with dozens of curious young visitors. That opportunity was a serious responsibility, and, in explaining global warming, I found I had to balance certain goals. For their own sake, these children need to understand that global warming is serious and that immense efforts are needed to prevent the worst effects. On the other hand, I would not be helping if I sent a child away to suffer from global warming nightmares:

Heatwaves and DroughtSea-level rise and floods 

 My goals were to keep it simple, and to give the children the tools they need to identify sources of global warming and solutions to global warming, all while maintaining optimism. Let me share the explanation offered at the front of a global warming activity booklet I wrote for that audience.  

All over the world, weather that used to act ordinary is starting to act strange. In general, temperatures are getting warmer. This is called global warming and it is bad news. We need ordinary weather patterns and a healthy environment in order to live safely and happily.   

The good news it that we can help stop global warming. One reason that global warming is happening is that people like you and me are putting too much carbon into the air.   

Vostok Graph

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are higher today than they have been over the last half-million years or longer

Carbon is an element and it is everywhere on earth – it’s in oceans, rocks, the air, and more. Carbon in the air acts like a blanket for the earth, it captures heat from the sun and holds it in. Some carbon in the air is natural and important, but having too much carbon in the air is like sleeping under a big blanket on a hot night – it’s uncomfortable.   

We put carbon into the air when we take oil, coal, and natural gas out of the ground and burn them for energy, putting their carbon into the air. Oil, coal, and natural gas are all made of carbon and they are called “fossil fuels.”   

Carbon is safe if it stays in the ground. But it can be dangerous when there is too much in the air, because it makes the globe too warm. Burning carbon fossil fuels takes carbon out of the ground and puts it in the air. That’s why we need to burn less carbon fossil fuel.   

Using electricity can also put carbon in the air because most electricity comes from power plants that burn carbon fossil fuels. We use electricity all the time, in light bulbs, computers, and refrigerators… everywhere!   

The best way to help stop global warming is to use less carbon fossil fuel and less electricity. That means putting less carbon into the air, and keeping our planet safe and healthy.   

Still confused? Try watching this quick, yet informative video about the science of global warming. This link will direct you to CA-CP’s YouTube Video Box application, where you can view the clip.   

How would you explain global warming to a 10-year-old person?   

Now you have find a 10-year-old person and try. Use roughly the same explanation I use, or use your own.   

Really. Find a young person and have a conversation about global warming. Report back in the comments.   

I can’t wait to hear from you.

Explore posts in the same categories: Carbon Management, Climate, climate education, Climate Science, Community Action, fossil fuels, Global Warming, Planning, Solutions, sustainability, weather

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