Observations of Climate

Natural and man-made changes in environmental conditions have daily, seasonal and long-term effect on local and global life. Actions of individuals and governments can impact threatened and endangered species.    

Observation in the garden, of the environment and for your health and safety is an essential skill to develop. Scientists, artists and physicians must observe details to do their jobs. When these observations are gathered and analyzed, decisions and statistical descriptions can be made.


Articles, guest commentary, editorial cartoons and suggested activities in this month’s guide, encourage students to observe details and sketch, to meet a botanical illustrator and make comparisons. The status of eight endangered and threatened species is updated and inspires students to read further. In addition, students read Washington Post science reporter Darryl Fears' article about the impact of walls on the movement and life of animals.


Not everyone agrees on the role humans play in climate change. Evidence — changes in reflectivity, weather, oceans, ecosystems — supports the Earth’s climate is changing. Different perspectives on what this means for life on planet Earth are provided, discussion questions help students to read more closely, and stimulus for research extends students’ knowledge of current studies and observations.


April 2017

Endangered and Threatened Species
Resource Graphic 

Develop Vocabulary
Biology, English, Reading

In the Know provides 20 terms that are defined in the EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms. Work with students to become familiar with these words that are used by writers covering climate change.


Teachers might prepare students to talk about threatened and endangered species, or the animals in our world, by showing “12 Pup Photos for National Puppy Day.” Enjoy the photos and learn that not all “puppies” are dogs — or members of the canine family. This could lead to discussing the different words used for young animals.


Additional vocabulary development is found in activities suggested in this month's curriculum guide. 

Meet the Botanical Illustrator
Art, Biology, Botany, Career Education, Visual Arts

The Post’s gardening columnist Adrian Higgins takes readers to the U.S. Botanic Garden and introduces Mara Menahan, a 24-year-old botanical illustrator. Before reading the article, teachers may introduce students to the purpose of botanic gardens and the U.S. Botanic Garden that was established by Congress in 1820.


Review the photograph and illustrations before reading the article. What do students learn before they have read the first word? What do they expect the writers will include? Next read the headline. What are three key terms in the headline?


Read and discuss "At the U.S. Botanic Garden, a young painter practices the art of observing." Questions could include:

• Tell about Menahan’s background that prepared her to be a Truman Scholar.

• What did Menahan do to fulfill her main job at the U.S. Botanic Garden?

• What tools were required to paint accurate images?

• What does the reader learn about the following plants: wild banana, cacao tree, coconut?

• Explain the “most disgusting” image she rendered?

• What is gained by capturing life-cycle stages of plants rather than a single image?

• Who is a Truman Scholar


Observe the Details
Art, Biology, Botany, Meteorology

Phenology is the "timing of natural events, such as flower blooms and animal migration, which is influenced by changes in climate,” as defined by the EPA. “Phenology is the study of such important seasonal events. Phenological events are influenced by a combination of climate factors, including light, temperature, rainfall, and humidity.”


Use the activity sheet, “Observe the Details,” to discuss this concept through observation of current signs of the season. The third question may be related to the article, “What backyard birds can tell us about our changing world,” with older students. Question 4 gets students to think about weather-related rhymes (April showers bring May flowers; rain, rain, go away) and the observable weather conditions they relate. Do students know of any other nursery rhymes or sayings associated with other seasons? What about songs that refer to weather?


Question 5 takes students to the Weather page to locate different types of information. One of the charts gives a year’s overview of temperatures (high, low and actual). Teachers could use this information to explain that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) using data (temperature, precipitation, wind for example) collected over three decades to determine the climate of an area. The longer the data collection period, the more accurate changes in climate can be verified.


Color in the Details
Art, Science, Visual Arts

Four pages to color, with brief introductions, and assignments to observe and sketch are provided in the Color in the Details activity. Artists, scientists and all folks can benefit from being more observant. This activity encourages going from observation to photograph and sketch.  For more on using nature to inspire artwork see How Does Your Garden Grow


Take Time for Backyard Birds
Biology, Botany, Environmental Science

Backyard Birds — A Closer Look” is provided for use with the guest commentary, “What backyard birds can tell us about our changing world.” This is another activity that is based on a Post article and observation. Holahan’s commentary begins as a personal essay and then transitions to a statement about man’s impact on the environment.


Before reading and assigning the discussion questions, teachers may wish to review the vocabulary found in the sidebar. All terms are used by Holahan in this essay.

Climate Change
Resource Graphic 

Review Teachers Notes
Biology, Environmental Science, Government

The articles and activities in the resource guide Some Species Have Survived are all related to plants and animals that are classified as threatened and endangered with some very near extinction. Teachers are encouraged to introduce students to these concepts.


Teachers Notes suggest ideas for using the “playing cards” and student activities in this resource guide: “These creatures faced extinction,” “Endangered Animals in a Flash,” “Introduce Endangered Animals” and On the Brink.


Who are Endangered Species?
Biology, Environmental Science, Government

Even the youngest students will find Animal Planet’s Endangered Species website very accessible. Give students “Endangered Animals in a Flash.” The fill-in-the-blank categories of the chart could be used as the format for the flash cards students will create.


It’s in the Cards
Biology, Environmental Science, Government

Darryl Fears is a Post science beat reporter.  We begin with the text of his article “These creatures faced extinction. The Endangered Species Act saved them,” Then we created eight cards composed of remaining text and photographs from the article.


These cards can stand alone for a discussion of the eight animals, be combined with plants and animals found in On the Brink — Threatened and Endangered Species or used as stimulus for additional research. See Teachers Notes: Using the Cards.

Wall in or Wall out?
Biology, Environmental Science, Government, Social Studies

The work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) illustrate the role that government plays in protecting human health and the environment, conserving and preserving natural and historic sites, and informing the public of the changing environment from the sun to the ocean floor. In addition, private organizations advocate for environmental protection and conservation.


The focus of these groups at times conflict with other federal agencies and the policies of the administration in power. Read and discuss “Trump’s border wall could separate some other residents — the animals.” Discussion could include:
• What is the migratory pattern of animals who live on the U.S.-Mexico border?
• What is the reason for proposing a wall between the U.S. southern border and Mexico?
• What examples exist of the impact of man-made walls on plant and animal life?
• Is there a compromise or solution to the conflicting goals?


For additional reading on the impact of walls on animals, read “Border walls are bad for wildlife,” by Tik Root, November 1, 2016.



Look in the Water
Environment Science, Government, Marine Biology, Media Literacy

In addition to preserving the land and animals that roam it, conservation focuses on the waters and the creatures who dwell in it.

Among the oldest money are cowries. These mollusks were common in the Pacific and Indian oceans. For a contemporary perspective on cowries, view and discuss the video, “Why some cowrie shells might be too beautiful for their own good.”


For a look at phenology and climate change’s impact, read “King Crabs Invading Antarctic Waters,” by Eric Niler, from The Washington Post, March 21, 2011. An evolutionary biologist at the University of Southampton in England, Sven Thatje, was on a research cruise aboard an icebreaker when he saw an invasion of king crabs in Antarctic seas. He first observed a king crab in these waters in 2007, and he has been predicting the invasion of the deep-water crabs ever since. This invasion, according to the article, is probably happening because the warming of the seawater. Although the warming is slight, it has lowered a physiological barrier to the king crabs that are normally found in deeper but warmer water.


Discussion could begin with: 

1. What technology allowed the scientists to observe king crabs under the sea?

2. These deep-water crabs were observed in a shallower habitat than they had ever been seen in before. Why is this invasion a concern for the environment?  

3. Formerly, the colder waters of Antarctica deterred the king crabs from the area. In water that is too cold, they are unable to remove ______________from their blood. The narcotic effect of this chemical causes them to lose their mobility.

Read About Climate Change

Consider Climate Change
Biology, Botany, Environmental Science, Government, Journalism

Two Post articles and a guest commentary from March 2017 are provided to discuss current research and reaction to climate change. Read “Trump moves decisively to wipe out Obama’s climate-change record” and “These scientists want to create ‘red teams’ to challenge climate research. Congress is listening.” and the commentary, “Trump’s coal policy will likely do just what Obama’s did.” 


Questions in “Change in Climate Policy” address all three pieces. Students will also need to do some thinking and research for questions 7-10.


More on Climate Change
Biology, Botany, Environmental Science, Government, Journalism, Reading

Michael Mann and Tom Toles in “Deniers club: Meet the people clouding the climate change debate” profile individuals who do not accept the human impact on climate change.


Students might be assigned these individuals to read more about their views and to contrast them to others who hold opposing points of view.


What is Sensitivity and Vulnerability?
Biology, Botany, Environmental Science, Journalism

Words we think we know may have different meaning when applied in particular disciplines, especially science. Introduce students to two terms — “sensitivity” and “vulnerability.” After discussing their usual definitions as applied to people, give the definitions as applied to climate change.


The degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or change. The effect may be direct (e.g., a change in crop yield in response to a change in the mean, range or variability of temperature) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of coastal flooding due to sea level rise)



The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed; its sensitivity; and its adaptive capacity.


Ask students to find articles about sensitivity and vulnerability in The Post and other media, science journals and government agency websites.


Read Tom Toles’ Commentary
Journalism, Media Literacy, Social Studies


Four editorial cartoons drawn by Tom Toles are grouped to discuss different perspectives on climate change. To understand Tom Toles’ March 5, 2017, editorial cartoon, teachers may wish to review a summary of the proposed 2018 federal budget: “What Trump cut in his budget.”


The informational graphic and text provide data based upon the proposal. Teachers may extend discussion by looking at the overall cuts as well as increases in Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security and Defense Department.


Discussion questions for reading Toles’ editorial cartoons are provided in "Tom Toles: Read the Editorial Cartoons."


Conduct Research
Biology, Botany, Environment Science, Marine Biology

Arctic ice melt has animals migrating to strange places” can be a starting point for conducting research on phenology and observations of changes as well as data collections.


Another approach to research in the area of climate change is to focus on seven main areas. Give students “Climate Change — Impact on Ecosystems and Human Communities.” Either as a class or in groups visit the five suggested resources to begin research.


Findings could be shared through student media, in PSAs, reports to community clubs and scouting meetings. Students could write to their state elected officials and national members of Congress.



Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

Resource Graphic 
In The Know 

Acclimate   Hydrosphere
Adaption   Natural variability
Adaptive capacity Ozone
Climate Phenology
Climate change Reflectivity
Ecosystem Renewable energy
Endangered Sensitivity
Fossil fuel Threatened
Global warming Vulnerability
Greenhouse gas Weather
 SOURCE: EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms  

ANSWERS. Change in Climate Policy.
Based upon reading the news article, “Trump moves decisively to wipe out Obama’s climate-change record,” and the guest commentary, “Trump’s coal policy will likely do just what Obama’s did.”

1. Lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing, remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions

2. He made a campaign promise to bring back jobs to the coal/fossil fuel industry. He does not believe in climate change and human impact upon changes in climate.

3. Some of the measures could take years to implement. The energy industry has moved away from coal-fired generation.

4. a. National Mining Association: “This rule [Clean Power Plan] was an unlawful attempt to radically transform the nation’s power grid, destroying valuable energy assets and leaving our economy more vulnerable to rising power prices — all for an insignificant environmental benefit.”

b. Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Solar and wind are competitive with coal in some parts of the country and that natural gas ranks as the lowest-cost source of electricity generation overall. The sector that could suffer the greatest hit from the elimination of the Clean Power Plan is nuclear energy, which provides about a fifth of U.S. businesses’ and households’ power. This group closely tracks investment in renewables.

c. Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis: The executive order “becomes a largely politically symbolic measure for right now” because other, lower-carbon sources of energy are out-competing coal. Tom Sanzillo, its director, noted that “U.S. coal consumption has declined 27 percent since 2005, from 1.02 billion tons to 739 million tons in 2016, its lowest level in nearly four decades.”

d. Stanford University’s Wood Institute for the Environment: “Some are risks from eroding the position of U.S. companies in the clean energy sector,” professor Christopher Field said. “Others are from the loss of irreplaceable natural heritage that is put in jeopardy by ill-conceived policies.”


5. The demise in the coal industry began many years before Obama administration environmental regulations.

6. Answers will include mining company executives do not foresee increased employment, history of energy provides many examples of transitions influenced by markets and technical imperatives, the cost of wind turbines and solar panels makes renewables more affordable and efficient.

7. California and its residents’ purchases have a major impact on the whole U.S. economy and the success of businesses. California is an innovator and leader in motor vehicle emission regulations — and the country’s biggest auto market. A coalition of 12 states and D.C. follow California standards. California dominates manufacturing, agriculture, wine making, technology, film and television industries. It is a top tourist destination.

8. Answers will vary.

9. Research will include:

g. National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: challenged the Clean Power Act in federal court; unlikely to build new coal-fired plants but will be able to utilize current functioning plants

10. Answers will vary.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.


Earth and Human Activity. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on human systems. [Clarification Statement: Examples of data on the impacts of human activities could include the quantities and types of pollutants released, changes to biomass and species diversity. Or areal changes in land surface use. Examples for limiting future impacts could range from local efforts (such as reducing, reusing and recycling resources) to large-scale geoengineering design solutions (such as altering global temperatures by making large changes to the atmosphere or ocean.] HS-ESS3-4.


Social Studies. Students analyze ways in which humans affect and are affected by their physical environment.

1. Identify human-caused threats to the world’s environment: atmospheric and surface pollution; deforestation, desertification, salinization, overfishing, urban sprawl and species extinction. (Environment and Society 6.6)


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://osse.dc.gov/service/dc-educational-standards.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Biology. 3.5.3 The student will investigate how natural and man-made changes in environmental conditions will affect individual organisms and the dynamics of populations. (3.5.3) Assessment limits:
• Depletion of food
• Destruction of habitats
• Disease
• Natural disasters
• Pollution
• Population increase
• Urbanization



Environmental Science. Students will use scientific skills and processes to explain the interactions of environmental factors (living and nonliving) and analyze their impact from a local to a global perspective. (Standard 6)

Recognize and explain how human activities can accelerate or magnify many naturally occurring changes.

a. Based on data from research identify and describe how natural processes change the environment.
• Cyclic climate change
• Sedimentation in watersheds
• Population cycles
• Extinction

b. Identify and describe how human activities produce changes in natural processes;
• Climate change
• Loss of habitat due to construction


Government. The student will evaluate roles and policies the government has assumed regarding public issues (Indicator 3)

a. Describe how executive departments and agencies enforce governmental policies that address public issues, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

e. Evaluate the effect that international, national, and regional interests have on shaping environmental policy, such as logging forested areas, oil drilling, pollution, nuclear power, or alternative energy sources

The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Life Science. The student will investigate and understand that ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms are dynamic, change over time, and respond to daily, seasonal, and long-term changes in their environment. Key concepts include

a)   phototropism, hibernation, and dormancy;

b)  factors that increase or decrease population size; and

c)   eutrophication, climate change, and catastrophic disturbances. (LS.10)


Earth Science. The student will investigate and understand the origin and evolution of the atmosphere and the interrelationship of geologic processes, biologic processes, and human activities on its composition and dynamics. Key concepts include

c) atmospheric regulation mechanisms including the effects of density differences and energy transfer; and

d)  potential changes to the atmosphere and climate due to human, biologic, and geologic activity. (ES.11)


Virginia and United States Government. The student will demonstrate knowledge of the process by which public policy is made by

a) examining different perspectives on the role of government;

b) describing how the national government influences the public agenda and shapes public policy;

c) describing how the state and local governments influence the public agenda and shape public policy;

d) describing the process by which policy is implemented by the bureaucracy at each level;

e) analyzing how individuals, interest groups, and the media influence public policy;

f) formulating and practicing a course of action to address local and/or state issues. (GOVT.9)


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. (Key Ideas and Details: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.1)


Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author acknowledges and responds to conflicting evidence or viewpoints. (Key Ideas and Details: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.6)


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7)


Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation. (Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.9)


Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.