NOAA Planet Stewards Book Club

As of November 2017, the NOAA Climate Stewards Education Project will be known as the NOAA Planet Stewards Education Project. We are expanding our scope to include a wider range of NOAA topics related to understanding and protecting our environment. This means we will focus on a larger number of subjects such as decreasing the impacts of marine debris, conserving and restoring natural resources, and understanding and responding to severe weather events. We will continue our programmatic emphasis on climate as a driver of environmental impacts to humans and natural ecosystems.

This change will allow us to better serve many educators looking to engage their students in citizen science and hands-on stewardship activities that relate to the broad range of NOAA's mission programs.

The following are books and topics that were suggested by educators and discussed during regular book club meetings. Included are links to resources and guiding questions. Would like to join our discussions? Usually scheduled on the last Monday of a given month, meetings begin at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. Sign up to our email list and receive invitations to future events. Have questions? contact Peg.Steffen@noaa.gov

Betting the Farm on a Drought by Seamus McGraw

Betting the Farm on a Drought cover

Seamus McGraw takes us on a trip along America’s culturally fractured back roads and listens to farmers and ranchers and fishermen, many of them people who are not ideologically, politically, or in some cases even religiously inclined to believe in man-made global climate change. He shows us how they are already being affected and the risks they are already taking on a personal level to deal with extreme weather and the very real consequences for their livelihoods. McGraw also speaks to scientists and policymakers who are trying to harness that most renewable of American resources, a sense of hope and self-reliance that remains strong in the face of daunting challenges. By bringing these voices together, Betting the Farm on a Drought ultimately becomes a model for how we all might have a pragmatic, reasoned conversation about our changing climate.


  1. McGraw highlighted the controversy over fracking, noting his mixed feelings when he allowed it on his family’s land. He compared the potential benefits of natural gas with concerns about the environmental consequences of the process to extract the gas; fuel that is dirtier than the gas itself and the methane that is released in the process. Although the methane remains in the atmosphere a much shorter time than carbon dioxide, it is a stronger greenhouse gas while it’s up there. Unfortunately, if we abandon fracking, he says, the gas would be replaced by coal. Do you agree with his statement?

  2. McGraw says that reduction in carbon dioxide in the U.S. that has come from switching coal-burning electrical power plants to gas has occurred due to market forces. However, the EPA says that Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States increased by about 9% between 1990 and 2014. Since the combustion of fossil fuel is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, changes in emissions from fossil fuel combustion have historically been the dominant factor affecting total U.S. emission trends. Changes in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are influenced by many long-term and short-term factors, including population growth, economic growth, changing energy prices, new technologies, changing behavior, and seasonal temperatures. Between 1990 and 2014, the increase in CO2 emissions corresponded with increased energy use by an expanding economy and population, and an overall growth in emissions from electricity generation. Transportation emissions also contributed to the 9% increase, largely due to an increase in miles traveled by motor vehicles. https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html

    Since 2008, coal emissions have also generally declined. While total coal emissions are below those from petroleum and other liquids, there is more CO2 released per Btu of energy. The decline in coal emissions has contributed to a lower carbon intensity of U.S. energy consumption. Natural gas emissions have generally increased since 2008, primarily reflecting growth in the natural gas share of electricity generation largely through displacement of coal-fired generation. http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon//

    What do you see for the future of coal and the use of methane? What efforts are happening in your community to reduce/sequester carbon dioxide?

  3. The climate controversy has been dominated by widely separated positions. Partisans on both sides claim that there are only 2 sides. We have fought to a standstill, claiming the moral high ground and the public hears only the extreme positions. He cites the Six Americas study with the majority of people either Concerned or Cautious, so there is room to hope. McGraw advocates for more reasoned discussions led by people who share the same values. He gives the example of Katharine Hayhoe, a scientist with an evangelical background. Have you seen this approach work in your community?

  4. In an interview with Jeffrey Gleaves from Harper’s magazine, McGraw stated “It would be nice to think that buying local and organic will solve the problem. But the global food crisis can only be solved if we get the bankers out of the system and begin to regulate the $648 trillion global-derivatives business that has made food into a speculative buy. The problem can only be solved if we can achieve greater transparency in global food reserves, more-equitable international-trade agreements, and reform of plant patent laws that allow companies like Monsanto and Pioneer their monopolistic practices. Smaller-scale, agro-ecological farming methods may be the ultimate solution, but the problem will not begin to go away until we can enforce the idea that the benefit of wheat is not cash.” Do you agree or disagree?

  5. Scientists have a high degree of certainty about where our climate is heading: “the leopard is crouching and twitching.” “But there is some evidence to suggest that among some believers on either side of the cultural barricades, the more fraught the debate becomes with end-of-the-world imagery, the less likely they are to support specific steps to address it.” Some believe in the end-of-times are willing to accept that we are hurtling toward global catastrophe. How have you approached people with this stance?

  6. Todd Tanner believes that sportsmen and -women are a resource that has been largely untapped in the discussions about climate. The tradition of Teddy Roosevelt’s conservation efforts may provide lessons to energize the sporting community. (Conservation Hawks) Are sportsmen and –women active in your community? How might they be engaged to identify changes that are taking place and then take action?

  7. Richard Alley said that the climate issue is more like saving for retirement, “Every day you delay is costing you, but when you decide to start, it helps.” He also said that “we are weeds” and we have an astounding ability to adapt. (whale oil to petroleum, for example) In the short run, we will have to compromise and perhaps that should start with respectful conversations and sincere efforts at problem-solving. How can we help our students and communities see that the issue of climate change and taking action is not a 2-sided issue and it would benefit us to start now?


The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Water Knife book cover

In this fiction, water is scarce in the American Southwest. Texas and New Mexico are all but abandoned, and the Texans are struggling to survive along with the other unfortunates of society.

With natural resources dwindling, Arizona, Nevada, and California are locked in a fierce battle for what little relief the shriveling Colorado River can provide. Catherine Case, the Queen of the Colorado—murderous and hard as steel—seems to be coming out on top with enough control to manage luxury arcology developments in Las Vegas while the rest of civilization descends into a scene of anarchic violence and poverty.

Into this volatile environment steps Angel, a Las Vegas water knife. His job is to secure, or cut the water for the Southern Nevada water authority, deal with authorities that won’t play. Rumors abound of a new source of water in Phoenix, a place full of refugees hoping to head to California. Angel heads off to investigate but answers are elusive and meets Lucy Monroe, a journalist who covers the new form of reality reporting, a voyeuristic look at those suffering the most. She is investigating the death of her friend Jamie. As the water levels drop, the stakes are raised much higher than any of them anticipate, and the fragments of knowledge that they have must be pooled to save their lives.

The drought in America has reached epic proportions and law and order has vanished, leaving the population at the mercy of gangs and warlords. There is water available, but this is controlled from the end of the gun, leaving those without looking longingly at the lush gardens and pools of those with power. There is mass migration too, but rather than Mexicans trying to reach America, you have Texans travelling to reach water.

​Additional Resources:


  1. In Chapter 3, a discussion about the price of water which is available at pumps around the city much like we pump gas now. Getting enough water is a daily ritual and the prices are astounding. ($6.95/liter) How did that change the way of life for people in Phoenix?

  2. The water pump is a gift of the Red Cross and China to Phoenix. Much of the new construction is also paid for by China. Do you see any trend of foreign investments at the present time that would lead to this?

  3. There are several references to the book, Cadillac Desert. This was a great 4-part series done by PBS about water, money, politics and the transformation of nature. See a summary here. Films are also available on YouTube

    In many ways, The Water Knife is an extension of the results of the trends seen in that video series. What do you think the future holds for water regulation and population growth in the southwest?

  4. Toomie says, “We’re all each other’s people” (250). He also says that an Indian man once told him that he believed that the people of India could survive an apocalypse while Americans could not. Why does the Indian man believe this? Do you agree?

  5. The wealthy of the southwest live in arcologies, large condo buildings that are self-sufficient with solar power and recycled water. If you look at any large city today, you will see huge apartment/condo buildings but they are not self-sufficient. What do you see as the future of self-sufficient housing in terms of power and water (even single-family homes)?

  6. For those of us in well-watered areas of the country, we don’t hear much about water rights (see definition below). However, it is an issue in the west or drought-stricken areas. As western cities and farms expand their need for water, many stakeholders vie for their fair share. The U.S. Department of the Interior has an Indian Water Rights Office to manage, negotiate and oversee settlements of Indian water rights to deliver long-promised water resources to tribes. The Water Knife’s stakeholders are all struggling for control of water rights granted to Indians in the 1800’s. What do you think about the choices that were made at the end of the book with the water rights? Do you agree with the actions that were taken?

    The Legal Dictionary explains water rights:

    A group of rights designed to protect the use and enjoyment of water that travels in streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, gathers on the surface of the earth, or collects underground.

    Water rights general emerge from a person’s ownership of the land bordering the bank of a watercourse or from a person’s actual use of a watercourse. Water rights are conferred and regulated by judge-made Common Law, state, and federal legislative bodies and other government departments Water rights can also be created by contract, as when one person transfers his water rights to another.

    In the eighteenth century, regulation of water was primarily governed by custom and practice. As the U.S. population expanded over the next two centuries, however, and the use of water for agrarian and domestic purposes increased, water became viewed as a finite and frequently scarce resource. As a result, laws were passed to establish guidelines for the fair distribution of this resource. Courts began developing common-law doctrines to accommodate landowners who asserted competing claims over a body of water.

    These doctrines govern three areas: riparian rights, surface water rights, and underground water rights. An owner or possessor of land that abuts a natural stream, river, pond, or lake is called a riparian owner and the law gives owners certain rights to water that are incident to possession of the adjacent land. Riparian owners have a right to enjoy the natural condition of the water undiminished in quantity or quality by other riparian owners.

    Every riparian owner enjoys this right to the same extent and degree, and each such owner maintains a qualified right to use the water for domestic purposes, such as drinking and bathing. However, this qualified right does not entitle riparian owners to transport water away from the land abutting the watercourse not does it permit owners to use the water for most irrigation projects or commercial enterprises.


Thinking about Climate Change

What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming book cover

What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming - by Espen Stoknes

Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, by George Marshall

Huffington Post Article: Why Psychology Should Be A Part Of The Fight Against Climate Change

NPR article :How Psychology Can Save The World From Climate Change


    "When people aren't convinced by hearing the scientific facts of climate change, then the facts have been repeated and multiplied. Or shouted in a louder voice. Or with more pictures of drowning polar bears...The rule of thumb has been to try to shout louder yet." (Per Espen Stoknes) So why aren't people listening and acting?

  1. Evolutionary psychology suggests that we are wired to elicit certain behaviors: Flock status, imitation, short-term thinking, and a perception to overvalue immediate dangers while ignoring less palpable threats. But our climate attitudes are also influenced by our social networks. Per Stoknes suggests that there are 5 main barriers to climate action.

    • Distance - we don't see it happening
    • Doom - when framed as an encroaching disaster, we tune out
    • Dissonance - if what we know conflicts with what we do
    • Denial - avoid acknowledging the unsettling facts
    • iDentity - we filter news through our professional and cultural identity

    Instead, he suggests that we upend the 5 D's:

    • Make the issue feel near, human, personal and urgent
    • Use supportive framings that do not create negative feelings
    • Provide oportunities for consistent and visible action
    • Avoid triggering the emotional need for denial through fear or guilt
    • Reduce cultural and political polarization on the issue

    What are concrete ways we can use these strategies in our own communities or schools and with people close to us?

  2. Climate is often presented in abstract and graphical ways. These authors suggest that climate should be presented more personal experiences with strong images and frame climate change as an informed choice. Have you had any experience using this presentation style? How do you approach audiences that are not climate science savvy?

  3. The authors suggest that we need to understand people’s emotional and cognitive responses to this new reality, which can run the gamut from denial to indifference to outrage to anger to grief. (Turn off your lights or the puppy gets it) Climate messages of increasing disaster, damage, and doom is uncomfortable to live with. People make it a low priority or call the science wrong. Reframing the conversation:

    • Destruction to Health and Heart
    • Uncertainty to preparedness and ethics
    • Sacrifice to opportunity

    How can we use these reframing ideas in our work with students and their families?

  4. Marshall gave an example of Greg Craven, the science teacher who produced "The Most Terrifying Video You Will Ever See" and says that the messenger is more important than the message.

    Do you agree? What is the role of the teacher as a climate communicator in your community?

  5. Marshall "argues that once we understand what excites, threatens, and motivates us, we can rethink and re-imagine climate change, for it is not an impossible problem. Rather, it is one we can halt if we can make it our common purpose and common ground. We need to mourn what is lost (even fossil fuels) and value what remains. (http://www.climateconviction.org/)

    This approach would be ideal for helping students envision a different low-carbon world. How would you use this in your work?

  6. The western worldview makes it difficult to "incorporate aspects of family and nature into the very notion of self" and is very different from First Nations people who have a keen sense of extended self. Per Stoknes suggests that we shift this worldview to "nature connectedness".

    Is this a shift that you have already taken or one that you would consider in the future? Are there things the Planet Stewards program can help you and ultimately your students become more connected to the world around them?


Climate Fiction aka cli-fi

This new genre explores the potential, drastic consequences of climate change. "It’s not an entirely new concept—Jules Verne played with the idea in a few of his novels in the 1880s—but the theme of man-made change doesn’t appear in literature until well into the 20th century. The British author J.G. Ballard pioneered the environmental apocalypse narrative in books such as The Wind from Nowhere starting in the 1960s. But as public awareness of climate change increased, so did the popularity of these themes: Searching for the term “climate fiction” on Amazon today returns over 1,300 results. Since the turn of the millennium, cli-fi has evolved from a subgenre of science fiction into a class of its own. Unlike traditional sci-fi, its stories seldom focus on imaginary technologies or faraway planets. Instead the pivotal themes are all about Earth, examining the impact of pollution, rising sea levels, and global warming on human civilization. And the genre’s growing presence in college curriculums, as well as its ability to bridge science with the humanities and activism, is making environmental issues more accessible to young readers—proving literature to be a surprisingly valuable tool in collective efforts to address global warming." (Margaret Atwood in the Atlantic)


  1. "Cli-Fi: Birth of a Genre"
  2. The fundamental story of climate change is simple. Human behavior provoked a change in the weather, unleashing, among other effects, dangerous storms. This story should sound familiar. It’s one of the oldest narratives in the human repository. In a February 2015 feature for The Guardian, the cli-fi author Sarah Holding wrote that the genre “reconnects young readers with their environment, helping them to value it more, especially when today, a large amount of their time is spent in the virtual world.” Also check out Sarah Holding's Top 10 cli-fi books"

    Are there any books that you have used with students? How did you incorporate it into your curriculum? Are any books particularly attractive for future use?

  3. In a nutshell, Game of Thrones is about nine noble families fight for control of the land of Westeros. There is a lot of intrigue and power struggles, but amidst the war and political confusion, a military order of misfits, the Night's Watch, is all that stands between the realms of men on the warm side of a very large wall and the icy horrors beyond. This video makes the case that the TV show has an underlying theme. "The Game of Thrones is secretly about climate change."

    If you have seen the show, do you agree that climate is enough of a climate theme to call it cli-fi?

  4. This list of "12 works of climate fiction everyone should read" has books that we have previously read for our book club. Are there others here that had particularly good messages for educators? Which ones might be potential books for next year?

  5. "Climate fiction fantasy on the Silver Screen." and "Climate Change Movies: The Summer of 2015"

    “Ecological meltdown makes for a reliable sci-fi setting for the same reason Wall Street tycoons are convenient villains – to the average moviegoer, it’s believable. Serious environmental dislocations (at some scale) are all but inevitable. Many of them are underway. As a movie set up, an eco-dystopia needs no explication." Do you agree? Do you think that these movies increase awareness that there is "no escape" and we need to take care of planet Earth?

  6. Piers Torday, a children's author, talks about popular books like Hunger Games and the Divergent series, scenarios in a post-climate change world. He writes that "Is this appropriate for children? Am I doom mongering? Today, the sun is shining in a bright blue sky. There are birds in the garden, and bees beginning to visit the flowers. Food, water and air are all readily available. I don’t want to give any younger readers sleepless nights about tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow. But the likelihood is that climate change will reach crisis point in your lifetimes. So writing provocative stories about the state we’ve left the planet in that’s not science fiction or fantasy. It’s all too contemporary." What do you think? Do you have any favorite cli-fi books that you have used with students?


The Attacking Ocean by Brian Fagan

The Attacking Ocean book cover

Discussion questions for The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels. Don’t have time to read the book? Just read the summary below and watch the intro video.

Summary: The past fifteen thousand years--the entire span of human civilization--have witnessed dramatic sea level changes, which began with rapid global warming at the end of the Ice Age, when sea levels were more than 700 feet below modern levels. Over the next eleven millennia, the oceans climbed in fits and starts. These rapid changes had little effect on those humans who experienced them, partly because there were so few people on earth, and also because they were able to adjust readily to new coastlines.

Global sea levels stabilized about six thousand years ago except for local adjustments that caused often quite significant changes to places like the Nile Delta. So the curve of inexorably rising seas flattened out as urban civilizations developed in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and South Asia. The earth's population boomed, quintupling from the time of Christ to the Industrial Revolution. The threat from the oceans increased with our crowding along shores to live, fish, and trade.

Since 1860, the world has warmed significantly and the ocean's climb has speeded. The sea level changes are cumulative and gradual; no one knows when they will end. The Attacking Ocean, from celebrated author Brian Fagan, tells a tale of the rising complexity of the relationship between humans and the sea at their doorsteps, a complexity created not by the oceans, which have changed but little.


  1. Watch this video introduction by Brian Fagan about rising sea levels and the threat they pose to coastal cities. He says that some of the world’s population is good at denial. Who is he referring to?

  2. Fagan says the lesson of history is that we eventually rise to the challenge but what we are confronting now is a unique long-term problem of sea level rise with expanding populations. The book has many stories of the effect of the rising sea on ancient populations in northern Europe, the Black Sea, the Nile, Mesopotamia, China, Japan, and Rome. The same processes are at work today but with many more people at risk. Was there a story from the past that was new to you or that you found uniquely compelling?

  3. Fagan says that we have a huge responsibility for the future and we need to start thinking about this and move away from “short-term political thinking”. How can we help to move the conversation to long-term solutions?

  4. Humans have been opportunistic when settling on the world’s coasts for food, economy and transportation but there are many historical accounts of the dangers of living near a rising ocean. How can we take the lessons from these powerful memories and develop long-term solutions? What are some of the simple solutions that farmers, communities and Native peoples are using to respond to the effects of sea level rise?

  5. Ocean encroachment has long been a problem for humankind but has now accelerated due to climate change. Historical accounts of encroachment from the Netherlands show us how the Dutch have dealt with the problem with amazing land reclamation from a very early date.

    "There is a strong realization that we have to do it together," said Chris Zevenbergen, chair of the Flood Resilience Group of the Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education. “There is a continuous effort to keep our feet dry, to keep our country safe. I think that is a bit at the heart of the Dutch people and in their DNA.” Are there lessons for other countries with the Dutch methods?

  6. One blog post says “Stephen King?…Bah, Humbug! Wanna read a real horror story?…Read this nightmare book that deals with starvation, land subsidence, floods, fresh water scarcity, rising ocean levels, and overpopulation…Horrific stuff…And it's all true!” Is this reality just too scary for students?

  7. The book ends on a hopeful note but one thing is certain: the world at the end of this century will look different than it does now. How can we help young people see the hope rather than the doom of these scenarios?


Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joana Cole

Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge book cover
  1. What age (grade) of student do you think would find this book most interesting and useful?

  2. This book has an incredible number of climate topics covered in just a few words or images. Is this useful for your students or does this oversimplify the science?

  3. Have you used the Magic School Bus books as a foundation for a unit in the past? Would this book be useful as such a foundation?

  4. Check out this article from The Guardian: Which books deal with climate change for younger children? Have you used any of these in the past? Do you have recommendations for other books?

  5. What strategies do you use to incorporate science trade books in to your reading or science lessons?


Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe

Diet for a Hot Planet book cover

Other articles on the same topic:


  1. The author focuses her opening chapter on the connections between the climate crisis and the food system. Were there facts that surprised you? In what way, if any, has your understanding or opinion changed?

  2. In “The Shape of Things to Come,” the author argues that the expansion of the American-style fast food and processed food diet is driven by three forces, including the food industry’s explicit push to change the tastes of consumers around the globe. She writes, “Our food future is being forged by specific policies, unquestioned assumptions, and corporate decisions” (43). Do you agree? Can you think of specific examples of how the food industry may have influenced your choice as a consumer?

  3. Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution writes that “neither free enterprise nor the human condition is likely to experience net benefit from companies pursuing corporate responsibility” (87). Do you think corporations have a social responsibility? Do you think that food companies should be held to a higher social standard that other types of corporations? In “Beyond the Fork,” Lappe details activities who are pushing food corporations to be more socially responsible. Did you think their actions are justified? Which kinds of campaigns do you think are most successful?

  4. In her discussion of the motivations for social change, Lappe quotes the authors of Break Through who write, “Ecological concern remains far weaker in Brazil, India, and China than in the United States, Japan, and Europe. And it explains why, when environmentalism does emerge in developing countries, such as Brazil, it does so in Rio De Janeiro’s most affluent neighborhoods, where people have met their basic material needs, and not in its slums where people live in fear of hunger and violence” (162). Does this statement seem logical? What argument does Lappe give that this idea is a myth?

  5. On page xxii of the introduction, Lappe writes that “by turning our sights to food, we may just find the integrating lens – and grounding source – for bringing to life the real solutions already before us.” What do you think she means by this? How do you feel after reading Diet for a Hot Planet? Did the book inspire you to make changes in your diet, or to take other action? In what ways could you make a difference?


Working to Eliminate the Debate About Climate Change in the Classroom

  1. Have you used classroom activities that encourage students to critically evaluate the arguments about climate change raised in a climate contrarian newspaper op-ed.

  2. Do you think this approach strengthens student critical thinking and content knowledge?

  3. What drawbacks do you see in using debate strategies in the science classroom?

  4. Are there other strategies useful to spark interest about climate science? For example, having students collect and share real-life stories of the personal impacts felt by climate change.

Resource List:

Consider actions that were taken in some recent healthcare studies.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/we-may-have-found-a-way-to-reach-vaccine-skeptical-parents_55c0e2d0e4b053bc04e90ff2?kvcommref=mostpopular

Climate Stories - The Climate Minnesota project is collecting "climate stories". You can read them here or listen to podcasts of a few on soundcloud.


Sudden Sea by R.A. Scotti

Sudden Sea book cover

This book focuses on the great hurricane of 1938, the early days of weather and hurricane forecasting, and presents first hand accounts of the tracking and impacts of the storm. You can find more information at the following sites:


  1. There were a lot of buildings on barrier reefs and low-lying land near the ocean that were completely destroyed in the 1938 hurricane. Do stories like this affect your view of "beachfront property"? Should people build in those areas? How does sea level rise affect this situation?

  2. Were there personal accounts of the hurricane that spoke to you more than others?

  3. The book showcases the state of weather forecasting in the 1930's and provides some information about the fact that this event and the resulting controversy caused by the lack of warning led to drastic revisions in the national weather service. Where do you go to get your weather information? How do your students/constituents get their information? Are weather radios accessible in your school?

  4. The Hurricane of 1938 was overshadowed by events in Europe, so it received relatively little press coverage. Compare this to the coverage of an event like Sandy in today's media. Is it now adequate? Too much?

  5. Hurricane Sandy has been compared to the Great Hurricane of 1938. "Limited data suggests that the 1938 hurricane was perhaps an event similar to Sandy in terms of baroclinic enhancement of a tropical system." However, the forecasts for Sandy were spot-on unlike the ones for 1938. Still, there were 117 deaths in the U.S. and 69 in Canada and the Caribbean. Why did they occur and how can we reduce the loss of life in severe storms even more?

  6. Finally, there is a teacher guide that accompanies a PBS special on this hurricane. Are hurricane (or severe storm) preparations part of your curriculum?


Why Creativity Now? A Conversation with Sir Ken Robinson highlights his work with creativity education.

Sir Ken Robinson

  1. Sir Robinson talks about creativity being an essential 21st Century skill but there have been misconceptions about the linkages between it and critical thinking. Do you agree with his explanation?

  2. Robinson says that “collaboration, diversity, the exchange of ideas, and building on other people's achievements are at the heart of the creative process.” What classroom and informal strategies promote these behaviors to solve tough challenges such as adapting to climate change impacts?

    Robinson also makes an entertaining case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. Click here to see his TED talk. Also consider reading the following books by Dr. Robinson, The Element and Out of Our Minds, Learning to be Creative.

    Lisa Rivero writes about the father of creativity, E. Paul Torrance, who developed the widely used Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, used to identify creative ability in children. He also created the Future Problem Solving Program, “to develop the ability of young people globally to design and promote positive futures using critical, creative thinking.”

    E. Paul Torrance's Manifesto:

    • Don't be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity.
    • Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.
    • Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and walk away from the games they impose on you. Free yourself to play your own game.
    • Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.
    • Don’t waste energy trying to be well-rounded.
    • Do what you love and can do well.
    • Learn the skills of interdependence.

  3. What parts of Torrance’s Manifesto speak to you? Which ones could be applied to your teaching situation and to your students and audiences?

    Here are a couple of great lists of ideas for Teaching for Creativity


  4. There are many contest/challenges that encourage creative solutions to challenges like reducing our need for energy - see some links below. Have you been part of contests like this and have you seen changes in your students as a result of their participation?


The Collapse of Western Civilization by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway

The Collapse of Western Civilization book cover

  1. The end of Western culture in 2093 is the premise of this book about not heeding the warning signs of a changing climate and not being able (or willing) to act upon that knowledge. The authors indicate that the scientists who understood the problem were somewhat limited in speaking out because they were limited to their area of specialty which hindered conversations about larger, complex systems. Even the scientific process requiring rigor and burden of proof became a tool for climate denial. Do you think that this is the case at the present time? How can we help students better understand the balance between scientific investigation and taking action?

  2. The authors talk about a Penumbral age (time before the crash when actions should have been taken) started in 1988 when the IPCC was formed and the world recognized the crisis at hand. Key to the discrediting of scientific findings was the idea of “uncertainty”. How has this key scientific premise been used as a weapon of deniers? How can we help students understand the concept of uncertainty in looking at climate information?

  3. The book indicates that the 2009 Copenhagen meeting was “viewed as the last best chance the Western world had to save itself”. Do you agree? What signs would you point to that this is or is not the case.

  4. The book discusses the release of Arctic methane which accelerated the warming significantly. Are there signs that this is happening now? Do you think this a serious threat? Potential sites for review:


  5. Aerosol injection of sulfates was discussed as a climate engineering project to slow the warming. It eventually was stopped due to unforeseen problems. Here’s some additional information about this strategy.


  6. What “tools” do you think we should use to counteract the effects of climate change?


The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind book cover

In addition to the book (or if you do not have the book), we recommend the documentary film of William's journey at www.movingwindmills.org.

  1. How did the villagers compensate for not having electricity, telephones, or most of the modern conveniences we take for granted?

  2. Malawi is an extremely poor nation. What are some of the causes of this poverty and how might these causes and influences be overcome?

  3. William writes of the corruption, greed, nonexistent services, and lack of empathy that turned the drought into a disaster for average people like him and his family. How did the Malawi government exacerbate the problems of the citizens during the drought?

  4. William exhibited the kind of curiosity that we would like to encourage in all students. (asking people how things work, reading books from the library, tinkering, scouring junkyards, etc) What lessons from this book might you employ with your students?

  5. What motivates people like William to attempt the unthinkable? How would you describe him to someone who's never heard of his achievement?

  6. William was desperate to stay in school but could not because of money. How might William's life be different if he had access to education without having to pay like most American students?


Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman

Hot, Flat and Crowded book cover

  1. Friedman suggests that Green is about a new form of generating national power and that this is building alternatives to oil. This book was written in 2008 so how do you think we are doing toward that objective?

  2. That rise of radicalized factions and destabilization in the mid-east is a development that would not be surprising to Friedman. He discussed the Energy-Climate Era as a convergence of global warming, global flattening, and global crowding driving problems in energy supply, petro-dictatorship, climate change, energy poverty and biodiversity loss and that we are past the tipping points. Is there evidence that these changes can be laid at the doorstep of a changing climate?

  3. Flattening refers to the “levelling” of the global economic playing field due to several factors: personal computers, the Internet, and the development in software that enable fast, global communications. Now add to this the growth of smartphones and social networking since 2008. Do you think that this is will increase or decrease our response time to global issues like climate change?

  4. On page 125, John Holdren’s First Principle of Climate Change is that “the more aspects of the problem you know something about, the more pessimistic you are...because you know how long it takes to change all the systems that are driving the problem.” Does this affect your commitment to climate literacy?

  5. What did you discover about the importance of biodiversity by reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded? Why do the efforts of groups such as Conservation International receive less attention than climate-change studies, though Friedman asserts that they are equally crucial?

  6. “Energy poverty" is a key to healing third-world populations, particularly in Africa, and it is mostly the women that bear the greatest burden of energy poverty. What is the best way to balance the need for energy in these regions with the destructive effects of power-supply emissions?

  7. Confronting today’s energy-climate challenge is a “series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems” and on p. 212-213 Friedman lists a series of potential actions that can start to make a difference. How might you use this in the development of stewardship actions in your community?


Early Warming by Nancy Lord

Early Warming book cover

“An alarming report from Alaska and Northwest Canada, ground zero for climate change. Disproportionate temperature increases in the north, relative to the lower latitudes, make the region a perfect laboratory for witnessing the effects of global warming and for designing strategies to mitigate or adapt to altered weather patterns. According to longtime Alaska resident and veteran author Lord (Creative Writing/Univ. of Alaska, Anchorage; Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life, 2009, etc.), climate-related changes are happening now, radically transforming landscapes and lives. Her account’s power stems from her on-site observations, lyrical descriptions of the land and sea and sensitive interviews of local officials and natives whose insight and experience humanize an otherwise vast and arcane subject. They’re already making hard choices about land and water use, fire prevention and species conservation, as well as about combating climate change while still respecting traditional cultures.”


  1. Sea ice is receding in coastal areas, water temperatures are climbing, and acidity of the water is increasing. The impact of these factors, and how they interact, is still very much an open question. Evolving technology and climate forecasting is a great way to bring the tools and methods of science to students and modeling is a skill featured in the NGSS. Are there dangers when discussing changes in predictions and uncertainty with a population that is not science-literate?

  2. A salmon-dependent economy (or any oceanic creature, for that matter) will see changes as species move to different areas. This will cause a cascading effect on the population. Do you foresee any impact on your local economy to changes in climate?

  3. Thawing permafrost and diminished sea ice expose a vulnerable coastline and villages like Shishmaref, causing them to make hard decisions about relocating their homes and businesses . Climate migrants will be an increasing fact of life for many in coastal areas. Coastal resiliency is being highlighted as a method of preparation in many parts of the country. Did you sense from the examples in the book that current efforts will be sufficient in the Arctic?

  4. Village elders near the Bering Sea gather to advise fishery managers and Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) has been considered in making decisions. Knowledge from the past can be woven into interdisciplinary units for students when looking at environmental change. Have you used this method in the past? If so, what topics or resources would you recommend?

  5. Lord reminds readers that northern forestlands capture more CO2 than the more celebrated rainforests and that algae under the ice is extremely important. “The equation’s pretty simple: no ice = no algae = no zooplankton = no ‘higher order’ animals, all the way through the food chain.” At what point does that include us?


"Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living", Union of Concerned Scientists

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low Carbon Living book cover

  1. Cooler. Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living provides compelling evidence that the collective efforts of many can make a big impact on our climate future and that “we need to make swift and deep reductions of carbon dioxide.” The message that “small individual actions can reap huge dividends in the aggregate” is one that would resonate with students of all ages. Have you employed any projects in your classrooms or with other groups that demonstrated this lesson?

  2. The book takes a very careful look at all of the potential effective steps that individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint. These included transportation, food, home heating and cooling, other home energy use, and the stuff that we buy. (pie chart on page 16) Were any of the suggestions for the reductions in these categories useful in developing a class stewardship project? Were any of them new strategies that you can personally employ?

  3. On page 19, the authors note that “people tend to underestimate how powerful it can be to use energy more efficiently.” How can we make people (your students, parents, community) more aware that improving efficiency can yield better saving in energy and emissions than simply doing without?

  4. The information boxes in each chapter pointed to interesting tidbits and calculations that might be potentially useful in classroom activities or projects. (pages 35, 53, 59, 60, 69, 97, 119, 120, 128, 140, 145, 164 are just a few) The book is full of useful information and succinct explanations. Did any of them provide a new nugget of information or an “aha” moment for you?

  5. The authors make the case that recycling reduces in 2 ways; reducing the need for virgin materials and reducing emissions from landfills. Does your school/community recycle enough? Are there ways to increase recycling efforts or reduce what we create? (The average American creates 4.3 pounds of trash each day.)

  6. The costs of transporting water over long distances is carbon-intensive and the need will likely increase in certain areas of the U.S. If you live in an area where water is scarce, what measures does your community make to reduce the need for water? What do you see for your water future?

  7. On page 183, the authors explain that we want to inspire, not frighten people into action. A reference is made to research done in that people are most inclined to address climate change when they understand three things:

    • The basic mechanism behind global warming
    • The prospects for achieving practical solutions
    • The economic benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy

  8. How might this advice be woven into your work on climate?


Earth: The Operator's Manual by Richard Alley

Earth: The Operator's Manual book cover

Using one engaging story after another, coupled with accessible scientific facts, world authority Richard B. Alley explores the fascinating history of energy use by humans over the centuries, gives a doubt-destroying proof that already-high levels of carbon dioxide are causing damaging global warming, and surveys the alternative energy options that are available to exploit right now.


  1. Dr. Alley uses a number of analogies when describing concepts. Did these help you, and if so, what was the most effective one? How could you use this analogy with your students/audience?

  2. Dr. Alley discusses modelling in climate science in some detail. Did this add to your understanding of the way scientific models work? How can this add to your repertoire of climate teaching tools? How could this information help you address the less-convinced who view them as “only models” that can be manipulated to show what the investigator wants to show?

  3. Dr. Alley discusses a variety of possible energy sources other than fossil fuels. Which is the most viable in your area according to his presentation and your previous knowledge? Why?

  4. Dr. Alley maintains a positive tone throughout the book despite the subject matter. How does he do it? What can we take away from the book to maintain our own positivity with our students and audience?

  5. Does this book speak to the heart or the mind or both? How? Do communicators need to speak to both?

  6. What was your most important take away from the book?


The Story of Stuff (all videos available here: storyofstuff.org/movies)

The Story of Stuff image

All the videos are a bit less than an hour in length. We know "Stuff" is something many of us struggle with in our lives, so it was really interesting to hear what educators think about these issues as individuals and the myriad of ways they present them in their classes.

  1. What was your initial reaction to the video?

  2. Annie says "you can't run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely." Another way to interpret this statement is you can't have unlimited economic growth with limited resources. Do you agree? Why or why not? What could this mean for the future of the U.S. economy? What changes could be made to ensure our economic system supports, rather than undermines, the planet's biological systems on which we depend?

  3. Annie says the U.S. has 5% of the world's population but uses 30% of the resources and makes 30% of the waste, and that is is a problem. Do you agree that this is a problem? Why or why not? If so, how did it come to be this way, and what are some of the steps that we in the U.S. can take to reduce the quantity and impact on our nation's consumption?

  4. Some people would say "The Story of Stuff" is anti-capitalist. What do you think?

  5. Is Annie's story complete? If not, what else should be added?

  6. Would you use these videos and/or the book in your classrooms? Why or why not? If yes, how would you use it?

  7. Related Resources:


Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice image

This is a remarkable documentary transports the viewer to the arctic to experience shrinking glaciers and ice-sheets. The photographing is breathtaking. You can feel the ice, so grab a warm blanket and check it out!

The official synopsis from Google Play:
Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski profiles National Geographic photographer James Balog as he endeavors to capture undeniable proof of climate change by launching the ambitious Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), a project that entails using time-lapse photography to document shifting ice glaciers. With the aid of his young assistants, Balog travels to three continents, placing 30 cameras in key positions to record vivid images of the majestic ice caps as they slowly melt away. In the process of capturing these incredible shots, Balog finds his skepticism fading, and experiences a brush with mortality that leaves him positively convinced that nature is currently experiencing a profound shift, the likes of which has never been witnessed by modern man.

If you haven't seen the film, here are some places you can get it:


  1. The subject of the film is a man who endeavors to capture irrefutable proof of human caused climate change. From a scientific point of view, do you think he succeeds?

  2. Do you think films like this are more likely or less likely to change hearts and minds than well-presented science? Why?

  3. Here is one reaction to the movie from a blogger who remains unconvinced that human beings are causing the climate to change.

    One of the more popular climate scams employed by the EPA, Katherine Hayhoe and many others – is to show photographs of glaciers from the 1940s (or later) next to recent photos. The implication being that these glaciers started to retreat sometime recently, and that it is due to global warming. This is blatant fraud. These glaciers have been retreating for hundreds of years, and it has nothing to do with CO2. http://antigreen.blogspot.com/2012/01/time-lapse-video-shows-how-glacier.html

    If a student came to your class with this information, how would you handle it?

  4. Would you use the film with your students? Why or why not?

  5. Did the film have an impact on you? What is your take-away from the film?


Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior book cover

Discussion Questions – Adapted from: http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/8988-flight-behavior-kingsolver

  1. Is this small town in Tennessee where Dellarobia lives familiar to you? What is everyday life like for them?

  2. Cub and his father, Bear, want to sell the patch of forest where the Monarchs are to a lumber company for clear-cutting. How do you strike a balance between protecting nature when your livelihood depends upon its destruction?

  3. Flight Behavior illuminates the conflicting attitudes of different classes towards nature and the idea of climate change. How does each side see this issue? Where do they find common ground?

  4. Why do so many Americans fear or dislike science? What impact do these attitudes have on the nation now and what do they portend for our future?

  5. How is media both a help and a hindrance in our understanding of issues like climate change? How does it offer clarity and how does it add confusion? How is the media portrayed in Flight Behavior?

  6. What did you take away from reading Flight Behavior?


Teaching About Climate Change by Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn

Teaching About Climate Change book cover

Discussion Questions

  1. This book includes many activities for K-12 (see curriculum index on p.73) that focus on the multidisciplinary nature of climate change. On page 7, a quote states, "Students need to learn how different disciplines approach the subject of global change. While scientists can reveal the nature and causes of global changes, science does not automatically determine what actions we should take in the light of this knowledge." In addition, the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education highlight the social impact of science. Climate change is well-suited to this approach. Are you including this in your teaching? If not, what are the challenges you face implementing this approach?

  2. The book includes many options for investigating energy use and alternatives. Was there on activity that particularly attracted you for use with your students or informal audiences?

  3. In the activity, "From Gridlock to Global Warming", (p. 44-48) students investigate the link between local transportation issues and global climate change. Last month we talked about the ecophobia ideas promoted by David Sobel in which students may become dismayed with the huge issues that face us related to climate change. This activity had positive results in that "Learning of other communities' successful efforts to solve similar traffic problems helped them move beyond this (defeatist) attitude." What strategies have you employed (or seen) that help students move beyond fear?

  4. The Climate Change Roundtable (p. 69-70) emphasizes consensus-building rather than winning or losing. The book round table suggests that this is a 2-day activity. What do you think?


How Do We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate by Lynne Cherry and Carol Malnor

How Do We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate book cover

Discussion Questions

  1. David Sobel, in his forward for the book, states that “The global climate change wave is cresting and it’s about to crash on public schools. The challenge in unavoidable, but the approach is up to you (teachers). Empowerment needs to be a core element of the approach.” Do you agree with his assessment of the current situation? Why or why not?

  2. The book and teacher guide are targeting middle school and emphasize citizen science projects and scientific inquiry in action (Guide p. 10-13, 50). What additional projects would you add to the list? Can you suggest ones more appropriate to elementary and high school audiences?

  3. The book has a list of what a million kids can do (p.54). Can these be implemented in your school or situation? Are there other actions that you would suggest?

  4. David Sobel (Guide p. 52) emphasizes the importance of giving students experiences in nature and focusing on environmental behaviors rather than simply giving children knowledge about environmental disasters. His longer article (“Global Climate Change meets Ecophobia”) discusses whether it useful or counterproductive for children to be educated about the world going to hell in a hand-basket and that this approach puts undue pressure on them to solve this huge problem.

  5. He suggests that the pathway to responsible environmental behavior is complicated and that the first thing is to teach children that their behavior makes a difference. Small behaviors lead to knowledge and attitudes, growing eventually into bigger attitudes. He suggests 3 things:

    • Emphasize behaviors rather than knowledge.
    • Connect children and curriculum to the nearby natural world.
    • Create classrooms and schools that are communities of care for the environment. What thoughts do you have about this approach? How would this differ with other student ages?
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Last updated: 10/28/17
Author: NOAA
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