(Also see History, Social Studies)

The many global challenges we face, including those related to global warming, fossil fuel use, and the environmental degradation, raise questions about the role of government, the rights of communities to decide how to protect their access to clean air and water, whether we have true democracy, and even if nature itself has rights.

Here are some sample questions for government courses that might help address these matters. Would these work in your classroom?

  • Do governments deal effectively with things that threaten the environment, health, and sustainability?
  • What international agreements on climate and air quality have been made in the past? How successful/unsuccessful have they been? (agreement at COP21, Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Protocol)
  • What are some examples of successful government action to reduce harm to the environment or human health? (Montreal Protocol)
    • Over 25 years ago, the Montreal Protocol was adopted to reduce damage to the ozone layer caused by chlorine compounds and other chemical emissions (including older coolants).
    • Has the Montreal Protocol been successful in protecting the ozone layer?
      Note: In October 2016, the Montreal Protocol was amended to cover hydrofluorocarbon [HFC] refrigerants, which have a very high global warming potential.
  • In 1997, countries around the world adopted the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and protect the climate.
    • Has the Kyoto Protocol been successful in producing major reductions in GHG emissions? (Why or why not?)
    • A total of 192 nations signed this global climate treaty; the only nations that have not signed are Afghanistan, Sudan, and the United States. Why did these nations refuse to participate?
  • Do you think the climate agreement drawn up in 2015 at COP21 in Paris will be successful in reaching its goal of keeping global warming less than 2°C? Why or why not?
  • Why do government regulators approve so many products, processes, and projects that cause real harm to human health and/or the environment (including global warming)?
  • What is the “community rights” movement and what is the meaning of its efforts to enact laws to protect community bill of rights and rights of nature?
  • Environmental protests are accused of interfering with property rights, while police actions to end demonstrations often include violating people’s human rights and civil rights. For example, companies have been allowed to remove coal from mountains of West Virginia by a method known as ‘mountaintop removal’ (MTR), but waste from demolition and mining of the mountaintop has polluted waterways and threatens homes and schools with serious health risks.
    • Does government have a responsibility to protect property rights of fossil-fuel companies?
    • Does government have a responsibility to protect the environmental and health rights of people and communities?
  • Another recent example is even more complex: the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline claims title to land that was given to the Standing Rock Sioux by treaty. As is often the case, protests are suppressed by local law enforcement.
    • How do state and local government policy apply to the Standing Rock conflict?
    • What is the legal force of a treaty ceding that land to the Standing Rock Sioux?

Big Ideas

  • Government has many responsibilities that are sometimes in conflict with each other.
  • People are making demands that challenge the legitimacy and effectiveness of governmental decision-making processes, and their ability to protect people, the environment, and the future.

Additional Resources for Government

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