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Our atmosphere: the hottest investment on the Planet!

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Communication
Topic: Atmosphere & climate change

We have all got used to economic growth. Companies sell more, and we earn more to buy it with, and every Christmas we are a bit better off than we were last year – although it doesn't always feel like that! Economists try to predict how one way of spending money will affect the rest of the economy. One of them has calculated that the hottest investment opportunity on the planet is the atmosphere. Just a lot of hot air? Or could there be something in it? For every �100 that we make, he's asking us to spend �1 on looking after the atmosphere. If we don't, he reckons that by 2100 we'll have economic depression instead of growth. For every �100 we could have been making, we'll be lucky to have �80 left. The rest will be soaked up by flood damage, drilling for drinking water, dealing with refugees, desert farming and lots of other drains on the economy. This discussion activity familiarises students with some key terms associated with climate change and the factors that prevent us from taking collective action to ameliorate the situation.

Published: 10th November 2006
Reviews & Comments: 10

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Learning objectives

Students will be able to use key terms associated with climate change and appreciate some of the factors that prevent us from taking collective action to ameliorate global warming.

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Global warming.

9G Environmental chemistry
How air or water pollution is monitored and controlled.

KS4 How Science Works
Pupils should be taught:
4a. about the use of contemporary scientific and technological developments
and their benefits, drawbacks and risks.

GCSE specifications
AQA Core Science
Unit C1a Oils, Earth and Atmosphere: 12.6 What are the changes in the Earth and its atmosphere?
• Nowadays the release of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels increases the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Edexcel Core Science
Unit C1 b Topic 7: There's One Earth
• Explain how burning fossil fuels may lead to global warming
Gateway Core Science
Module B2 Understanding our environment: Item B2g: Population out of Control?
• Explain the effects of increasing amounts of pollution including global warming from increasing levels of carbon dioxide.
Twenty First Century Core Science
Module P2 Radiation and Life: P2.4 What is the evidence for global warming, why might it be occurring, and how serious a threat is it?
• Understand how burning fossil fuels in power stations and for transport pollutes the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Running the activity

The organisation of the tasks, will depend on how much pupils have previously discussed the subject of climate change. The thing that makes this news story special is that the report is the advice of a respected economist. There is scope to use this activity to introduce research and project work on global warming. Alternatively it could be a freestanding activity for part or all of a lesson.

As a starter, introduce the topic with page1 on the screen. This introduces the "investment" idea of the Stern report. Students take a minute to read over and decide for themselves if they would invest 1% now to save paying 20 times as much later. When the minute is up they could put hand up for against and not sure about making this investment.

Page 2 sets out the Stern priorities for investment and change as a series of Challenge Cards. Explain any points not clear on these. e.g. The last one: "avoid reaching the point where enough ice melts to release more greenhouse gases, increase heat absorption and make global warming accelerate" is about a tipping point beyond which atmospheric temperatures may start rising much faster and take a very long time to go back down again. This could be due to melting of the ice that currently reflects radiation from the Sun, desertification and burning of dried forest, which currently acts as a CO2 sink, and ocean acidification which reduces its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Get pairs or groups to decide which jargon card (page 3) goes with each of the challenges. (It would be good to have these cut up beforehand so students can lay them quickly in the right order.) With many classes it is worth making it clear that "carbon" often means atoms of carbon moving in and out of the atmosphere within CO2 molecules.

Page 4 has some comments global warming sceptics might make. Groups discuss which opinions they agree and disagree with. Then they can summarise their own views by composing a letter to their MP using the key words and phrases.


Students could be invited to come up with 5 questions they would like answered about climate change. They could think about this individually for a minute and then discuss it in groups. Science is about coming up with really good questions and it is science that gives economists the information they need to judge how much climate change will cost. Encourage groups to pick their best question and consider how they could find out the answer.

Teachers Notes

Fostering a shared understanding of the nature of climate change, and its consequences, is critical in shaping behaviour, as well as in underpinning national and international action. Governments can be a catalyst for dialogue through evidence, education, persuasion and discussion. Educating those currently at school about climate change will help to shape and sustain future policy-making, and a broad public and international debate will support today's policy-makers in taking strong action now.

News links

The BBC news item on the Stern Report including a link to a pdf of the report summary and other climate change information.
Graphs showing variations in indicators of global warming.
Excellent illustrated guide to the science of climate change.
Doom and gloom reporting of the Stern Report.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Oct 1st, 2010

5 Star

Absolutely brilliant!
A really useful website with some great powerpoints and notes. They really fit in with the new ways of teaching.
Keep up the good work.

S E Rowlands HoSc Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones.

Reviewer: stephen rowlands

Kidney Stones

Jul 9th, 2008

5 Star

Simple but effective and easy to incorporate into a lesson. Could make up the main body of a lesson or be used as a starter/plenary

Reviewer: Gill Dale

Our atmosphere: the hottest investment on the Planet! review

May 13th, 2008

3 Star

This activity gave my more able Y9 group an opportunity to use sophisticated language with which to evluate these ideas.

It was a bit to wordy to maintain the interest of all.

Reviewer: Steven Cartwright

hottest investment

Dec 17th, 2007

5 Star

My year 11s enjoyed this activity very much. The eye catching layout and easy text were a bonus but the issues raised were very real for them.

Reviewer: Jennifer Mayer

Our Atmosphere

Mar 21st, 2007

5 Star

I thought I was on to a sure fire winner with my disengaged PRU students and although it did provoke some discussion my year 11s (only have two of them)just don't care enough about the issues to get motivated. My year 10s were more 'bothered' but the idea of reaching out to contact their MP was too much for them. I loved the discussions we had and the fact that it really raises the students' consciousness about these important issues. I will definitely use it again. I love the presentation of the worksheets, the colour and the graphics make it really accessible. They're so good I laminated them straight away to keep for later.

Reviewer: Jennifer Mayer

Javelin Jeopardy

Feb 18th, 2007

5 Star

This looks good as moments is quite a dull topic and this activity did help to motivate my pupils

Reviewer: irene omobude

Our Atmosphere

Feb 9th, 2007

5 Star

A quick activity that links in well with new GCSE syllabus. Used with middle ability group. Was challenging enough to be interesting and stimulate conversation. Very relevent to today. Good activity.

Reviewer: Amy Beale

our atmosphere Jan 29th

Jan 29th, 2007

4 Star

I have used this with my lower ablity Y10 group. They responded really well to the fact that is great visually and requires minimal teacher input. Afterwards they initated their own discussion about the environment. Great!

Reviewer: Tina Coulthard

Our atmosphere

Nov 24th, 2006

5 Star

Have just used with my Y10 group and they really enjoyed it. Have used a number of the KS4 update resources to make displays to help parents understand how the science curriculum is changing.
Very colourful stimulating materials.

Reviewer: karen Rushton

Our atmosphere

Nov 17th, 2006

3 Star

This looks good, but I would need a lot more resiources available to make it worth while with my students

Reviewer: Kim Vale

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