Global warming and climate change involve physical processes and chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere, on land, and in the ocean and other bodies of water, in living beings, and in interactions among them. Exploring these interactions and cycles provides important entries points to understanding global warming and climate change. (Some of the physical processes and effects are considered in more detail under Astronomy, Environmental Science, and Physics.)

Would some of the following questions help start or add depth to student discussions of global warming and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)?

  • What is the basic chemical reaction of photosynthesis?
    (6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2).
  • What elements and compounds are found in these sources?
    • Gasoline?
    • Automobile exhaust?
    • Near an active volcano?
    • Water from ‘fracking’?
    • Crude oil from the Bakken Shale? (Compare to other crude oil)
  • What are the basic chemical reaction of combustion of wood? …gasoline? …Diesel fuel?
    (for wood, it’s C6H12O6 + 6 O2 → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + heat)
  • What are the main sources of global warming emissions (greenhouse gases)?
  • How much space would 1 metric ton of CO2 occupy at normal atmospheric pressure?
    • How much is this affected by temperature?
  • Do policies and regulations on the use and distribution of man-made compounds reflect scientific knowledge about their effects on climate (and safety for humans)?

Big Ideas

Physical and chemical processes, whether natural or created by humans (including products that we use every day) can be both helpful and harmful to our health and to the climate.

It is difficult—but extremely important for sustainability—to understand and balance the effects—short-term and long-term, natural and human-caused.

Additional Resources for Chemistry

Resources on the metric system are found on the Metric System (System Internationale) page.

Also see Resources That Apply To Many Subject Areas and Teacher-Recommended Readings for Students.