In a fact-checking post by Alex Kasprak on October 18, 2016, Snopes answered the question: “Did a 1912 Newspaper Article Predict Global Warming?” with a resounding "yes".
The article, found in the National Library of New Zealand was first published in August 1914 and it points to earlier articles starting with a Popular Mechanics issue in 1912 titled: “Remarkable weather of 1911”. In this article, a year of violent weather is examined and it is explained just how the change in weather can be directly traced to fossil fuel use.
If this sounds familiar, it should. As we look ahead to Fall, maybe we can take a look at using primary sources such as these to help think through some solutions to our current weather crisis. Depending on the subject of the class or unit, as well as the age of students, there are many resources to use and strategies with which to help students become informed and then activated to participate.
The Snopes article moves forward in time to mention Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius who, in 1896 published a paper describing a calculation of how the different gases are trapped in the atmosphere. It is from him that we find the term ‘greenhouse gases’. While the more scientific among us can use these sources from Snopes as background to scientific studies, others can pull important ideas out from them to use as research prompts to topics such as:
-weather patterns and climate change
-plastics and how they’re made (and how they don’t degrade).
-the social effect of violent weather
-solutions that kids can use to create cultural shifts in how we handle waste
-how local history and local culture intersect
-how “think global, act local” works.
Check out these resources for teaching – most can be adapted to your classroom age, subject, skill, and content goals with just a few tweaks.
1. Not specifically a primary source, this timeline from PBS - a wonderful animated overview of the history of climate change - can set the stage for further discussions. It not only covers science…but also the history and economics. Use this as excellent content with which to teach graphing!
2. Use photographs to tell a story: American Environmental Photographs from 1891-1936, housed at the University of Chicago Library. Have students pick a location and then find the photographs over time. These are interesting photographs as they are mostly from excursions or field trips, but looked at as a group, they might bring up some curious ideas about nature - and how people relaxed in it - over time.
3. The Library of Congress blog post by Tom Bober, and the weather forecasting primary source set at the Library of Congress offers many images to be downloaded and used as Q-focus items, write-arounds, (here's one version) and other primary source strategies. Bober also offers ideas on using data.
4. Let’s take a look at the National Weather Service history with this timeline. Then head to Past Weather. Locate your item of study and click on the map. There you’ll have choices for dates to study, temperature graphs, climatology, and more. Have students check out their local climate and compare it to other places to discover differences, challenges, etc.
5. Here are some resources that might be of interest to all grades from NASA:
b. Was this the first debate about climate change? Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster. The Smithsonian describes the debate. Here are some resources to go with it from the Jeffersons Observation Records:
and here’s an image from those records for younger students from Monticello Classroom:
c. How the AD Council helped change behavior: Here are some of the classic ads that helped change the way Americans behave from avoiding wildfires to recycling and picking up litter. What is the effect of advertising on our behavior and can we use it today to make a change? What would that look like? What kinds of ad would work today? Where, in our social media world might these be placed to be effective? What does effective look like?
What if we had our students create their own primary source by documenting the weather over the entire school year? By March, they could compare their log with those from the weather service or other local resources.
Whether we focus on the weather, natural disruptions, fossil fuels, plastic and other recycling issues, it is important that we help students recognize that humans make up only a part of this earth and it is time for us to take note of how we are taking care of it; and maybe do better.