Environmental Impacts & Restoration

Photo by: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

This inquiry delves deeper into the multifaceted environmental effects of climate change. We encourage students to harness their curiosity of the local environment by examining changes to the ecosystem, species at risk, large scale environmental impacts, etc. or by connecting with a community expert and exploring restorative practices. We have included a multitude of external resources and guiding questions to help support and extend student research.

In this inquiry, students can explore tools and resources that help determine where we are now in terms of climate change, research big idea questions, consult with local political leaders or municipal planners, and visually map their understanding through concept mapping to explore different dimensions of climate change. They can also explore consensus on climate change, mitigation and adaptation, and policy analysis.

Regions across Canada are already experiencing the effects of climate change. Many ecosystems are changing rapidly, and animals’ habitats are changing at a faster rate than they can adapt. The Living Planet Report shows an average decline of 60% in animal populations between 1970 and 2014. In order to conceptualize some of the major environmental effects that can be attributed to climate change and trends that could emerge in coming years, the effects have been broken down into the following sub-categories: changes in temperature and precipitation, changes to the cryosphere (portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including ice caps, glaciers, sea ice, snow cover, etc.), changes to freshwater resources, changes to ocean climate, and biodiversity changes. 

 

Changes in Temperature and Precipitation:

  • In Canada, temperatures have increased by 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Canada’s position in the far northern hemisphere means that we are experiencing the effects of climate change at a higher rate than many other regions in the world .
  • Warmer air has the potential to absorb more surface water, resulting in both droughts and more intense precipitation events. Overall trends indicate that Canada has become wetter in the past decade, with increased rainfall and decreased snowfall across many regions of southern Canada.
  • Temperature and weather extremes are expected (very hot and very cold as well as very wet and very dry) leading to a higher risk of associated environmental hazards such as floods and droughts.
  • Overall temperature warming is enhanced in the northern latitudes of the country

 

Changes to the Cryosphere

  • Permafrost temperatures in Northern Canada have been fairly consistently rising 0.2 degrees per decade over the past 20-30 years 
    • Globally between 2007 and 2016, there has been an average increase of 0.29°C ± 0.12°C in permafrost temperatures (IPCC, 2019
    • The effects of melting permafrost include release of harmful greenhouse gases previously trapped within the ice and reduction of structural support in regions previously covered by permafrost 
  • Glaciers have been melting at an accelerated rate since the beginning of the 20th century—glaciers lost 11% and 25% of their surface area in Alberta and British Columbia, respectively, between 1985 and 2005. 

 

Changes to Freshwater Resources 

  • Changes to freshwater resources across Canada are difficult to categorize as a whole, nationally, due to the extreme regional variation that exists 
  • Canadian data shows that water quality has remained stable in the vast majority of monitoring stations across the country (81%) between 2002 and 2016, improved in 10% of locations, and decreased in 9%. 
  • However, the levels of PBDEs (Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, persistent organic pollutants) remain above prescribed guidelines in the following locations: The Great Lakes, Pacific Coastal, St. Lawrence. 
  • Excessive nutrients in both the Winnipeg River Basin and The Great Lakes area have caused detrimental algae blooms in these locations

 

Changes in the Ocean Climate

  • Trends in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans indicate long-term warming of approximately 0.1 percent per decade, both surface temperatures and bottom waters 
  • Ocean temperature, acidity, and oxygen levels are affected by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels
    • Since the 1980’s the ocean has absorbed between 20-30% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions 
  • The rate of ocean warming has more than doubled since 1993 (IPCC). 
  • Ocean levels are rising at a concerningly fast rate (in part due to the melting ice caps), which is increasing the risks of flooding and potential contamination of freshwater and groundwater, among other issues
    • In Canada, a country surrounded by three different ocean bodies, the changes to ocean levels, temperature and composition are of paramount importance 

 

Biodiversity changes in Canada:

  • Increases in the frequency and intensity of droughts, forest fires, and insect outbreaks in combination with direct human impacts like deforestation, pollution and overharvesting are resulting in habitat loss and threatening the survival of many species (Canada and a Changing Climate).
  • Changes to season lengths and times (such as earlier springs) are changing the growth and reproduction patterns of many plant species, which directly affects animals that rely on them for food and habitat
  • Physical changes in the landscape (e.g. higher water levels or human barriers such as roads, farms, and dams) can prevent animals from accessing food or breading/rearing areas

To hook student interest, choose one or more of the provocation ideas to initiate student thinking. 

Idea 1) Picture prompts 

Images can provoke strong responses. Find some topical photos and ask students “What do you think this image is saying?” A few suggestions are listed below. (For more ideas on how to use them, go to the New York Times resource on How to use Picture Prompts.)

Click on the links below to access the following picture prompts

Idea 2) Videos

  • 1 °C and its impacts: what does climate change mean for Canada? [Climate Atlas]: 2:49 minutes – Climatologist, Damen Matthews describes how the climate changes that are being observed are human-caused and “unparalleled in geologic history.”
  • How we children save the world [Plant for the Planet]: 5:21 minutes – The story behind Plant for the Planet—a youth perspective on how children can change the world and make a real impact in the climate crisis.
  • Canada Living Report [World Wildlife Fund] – WWF’s 2017 living planet report brings attention to the significant wildlife loss and takes a look forward to see “what can be done?”
  • Ask the Experts about Climate Change [CBC] – Watch to 1:38 – Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News science reporter, Ulrich Wortmann, professor of Earth Sciences, and Mark Winfield, environmental policy expert answer questions on climate change.
  • Why we must adapt where we live to reduce weather impact [Global News]: 10:16 minutes. Senior Climatologist for Environment Canada, David Phillips believes that governments should be putting restrictions on building in flood zones and preventing paving lawns, “investing in green infrastructure not grey infrastructure”. 

Idea 3) Neighbourhood Walk

Go for a walk around your school yard or neighbourhood and ask students to three to five I wonders about how climate change is affecting or may affect the environment in your local area. Compile “I wonders” into a list for students to refer back to when developing umbrella questions. For example, “I wonder how bees are being affected by climate change.”

Biodiversity or species at risk modification: 

Before leaving for your walk, encourage students to download the free app, iNaturalist. The app allows them to take photos of plants, animals or insects for identification and will suggest probable species. Data uploaded into iNaturalist is shared with scientists to help conduct research and monitor invasive species.

Using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT)”

Reflecting back on “I wonders” from the neighbourhood walk, ask students in groups to generate as many questions as they can in the allotted time (suggested 5 min). To generate questions, follow QFT rules for producing questions:

  • Ask as many questions as you can
  • Do not stop to answer, judge or to discuss the questions
  • Write down every question exactly as it is stated
  • Change any statement into a question

Review the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions and ask students in groups to identify open questions with an “O” and closed questions with a “C”. Ask students to rewrite three closed-ended questions into open-ended questions and three open-ended questions into closed-ended questions. 

Prioritize questions: Next ask students to review their questions and prioritize them according to which ones they believe will help the class better understand how local natural systems are being affected by climate change. 

Sample questions: 

  • What is the biggest environmental impact in our area?
  • Which species are most at risk in our area and why? What are the main risks?
  • What adaptation strategies do we have to protect areas most at risk of environmental impact (e.g. flooding or droughts)?

Invite a speaker

Invite a local community expert to learn about local climate impacts and local climate action responses. 

Places to look for a local community expert:

  • Naturalist groups
  • Climate adaptation representative (municipal, provincial)
  • Ministry of Natural Resources
  • Conservation Authority/Agency
  • Conservation NGO

Students can have the questions they generated on hand to prompt them to ask the speaker.

V-heuristic

After hearing from a guest speaker, have students review their questions, make notes about what they’ve learned and develop any new questions. 

Then ask students to select one question as a top priority. Working with this question, students will each go through the v-heuristic process steps 2-4. These steps will help students focus on how and where to direct their learning.

Individual or group research 

At this point, students can individually pursue their own research process, or you can facilitate students working in groups as they begin to conduct research.

What is the biggest environmental impact in our area?

Which species are most at risk in our area and why? What are the main risks?

How are we all connected? How do the environmental impacts across the country affect us in our location? 

What adaptation strategies do we have to protect areas most at high risk of environmental impact (Example: flooding or droughts)?

What are the best restoration actions for mitigating climate impacts?

After students have had an opportunity to do some extensive research, a valuable consolidation tool to conceptualize and organize large amounts of information is a reverse mind map. Students can complete a reverse mind map in a group with other students who have chosen to address a similar topic. By combining all of the research that students did, information can be consolidated and hopefully some clarity will begin to arise.

Teachers will assess learning at different points throughout the inquiry using multiple methods. The following assessment provides an alternative evaluation method to standard quizzes and tests, that can be used after consolidation or at any point in the lesson to check for understanding.  

  • 3-2-1 Strategy: The 3-2-1 exit slip strategy is a method for students to summarize their learning as follows:
    • Three: Students write three things they learned in today’s lesson.
    • Two: Next, students write two things they would like to learn more about.
    • One: Finally, students write one question they still have about the lesson.

Find more information on this strategy here

 

Ideas for Taking Action:

  • Citizen Science 
    • Conduct an ongoing experiment to track local changes in a specific aspect of the environment. Monitoring local changes can create a vivid first-hand account of the effect that climate change is having on the surrounding environment so close to home. This can reinforce the research that has been conducted through the Climate Atlas and provide new insights to inform action. 
  • Support Policies that support sustainability and climate change mitigation strategies
    • Research and understand current government policies and then take action by getting in touch with local government officials. For instance: write letters to local MP’s voicing concerns about environmental policies and help students learn the importance of civic action; present Climate Atlas graphs and presentations to the local council.

Action Project Examples

  • Carden Water Quality Monitoring – Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School – Orillia, ON (2015) 
    • For the CAPSTONE program, students monitored the pollution that comes from cattle grazing (an essential component of maintaining alvar conditions) learning water quality measuring skills such as: temperature, turbidity, nitrogen, pH etc. They partnered with a local conservation authority and presented their findings to their city council. See their project here. 
  • Bioblitz Action Project – Rossland Summit School – Rossland, BC (2017) 
    • A three-part Action Project starting at a local wetland, taking recordings and observations from the temperature to the local flora and fauna. Students applied for funding to purchase learning tools to be able to engage more deeply with the wetland and spend more time exploring. Students also educated their local community about what should and should not go down the drains to avoid algae blooms and engaged them in a huge, community-wide bioblitz to cap off their project! See their project here
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