2011. Somerville, MA: Candlwwick Press
Ages: Upper elementary through high school.
Genre: Though primarily an informational text, the book has a persuasive tone as well as specific persuasive sections useful for teaching that genre. (An upcoming post will deal with this.)
Trait connections: Ideas, organization, voice, and conventions/presentation.
You hear late-night comedians making fun of it all the time: “A rise in temperature of one degree? Oooh. Terrifying.” Well, it may not be terrifying–yet–but it’s definitely significant, as writer and scientist Nicola Davies points out in this engaging and well-researched book. When Earth was just 7 degrees F colder than it is now, it was “in the grip of an ice age,” and when it was just 9 degrees warmer, “it was a dino-hothouse with palm trees at the poles” (p. 61). Those sound like pretty significant changes, especially when we realize that current average temps will continue to rise even if we take every step possible to slow things down (p. 62). The purpose of this concise little book is not to scare the dickens out of us, however, but to give us a working understanding of climate change and options for making a difference (This is where the persuasive part comes in). The book is beautifully organized, divided into three sections: Section One, Climate Change: The Basics; Section Two, Gaia Warriors; and Section Three, Afterword by James Lovelock as well as an outstanding index, glossary, and list of places to find further information. Gaia Warriors is an extremely readable book, thanks in part to Davies’ conversational voice, but also thanks to its visually compelling layout, reminiscent of a personal scrapbook. Sections are enlivened and accented by striking variations in color (including multi-color paper), artistically displayed photos of relevant people and places, and consistent playfulness with font size and style. It can be read cover to cover (This takes well under two hours) or the reader can scan the extremely complete table of contents to identify appealing discussions (each of which runs only a couple of pages). I found myself immediately pulled in by chapter titles like these: Is Climate Change Our Fault? If It’s Only a Few Degrees, What Difference Will It Make? What If the Scientists Have Made a Mistake, and We Waste Money Preparing for Something That Never Happens? I loved this book for telling me just enough to make me feel informed without weighing me down. It’s not pretentious, and it doesn’t try to be a mini encyclopedia or a textbook in disguise. Charts are kept to a minimum and they’re both striking and easy to interpret. Quotations abound–from scientists, philosophers, and students. Davies’ strategy of closing chapters with pertinent interviews is particularly effective and lends a personal touch to the topic. Perhaps most appealing of all is Davies’ refusal to succumb to a doomsday attitude. We cannot just abandon our cars by the side of the road and shut down all manufacturing, she tells us, because “we can’t support 9 billion people (which is how many of us there’ll be by 2050) on Stone Age farming and technology” (p. 85). And so, she outlines the problem in the first part of the book, and presents us with numerous realistic solutions in the second part–that’s classic persuasive organizational structure. The book closes with a passionate essay by eminent scientist James Lovelock, written with stunning voice and word choice. The perfect closer to a well-managed discussion on an ambitious topic.
In the Classroom
1. Discuss climate change with your students. What do they know now? What beliefs or questions do they have? Check “A Short History of Treaties and Deals” (Section Two, page 170 and following) for facts and events leading to formation of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as well as general information on the Kyoto Protocol and subsequent U.N. meetings. This history may provide you with helpful background for this discussion, even if you wait until a later time to share the history with students.
2. You probably will not share this book aloud in its entirety–but do share parts aloud because it is an outstanding example of fine informational writing. I suggest opening with the chapter titled “What Is Climate Change” (pp. 17-19). Then share additional pieces you discover in reading the book on your own; choose what has the strongest detail and voice. (I will offer additional recommendations in this list.) You can also share the table of contents with students and have them identify questions they find intriguing. Focus on Section One first–figuring out what climate change is all about and learning the consequences.
3. Use a document projector as you share the book so that you can discuss the presentation (layout) along with the content. What strategies do the author and designer use to get our attention or emphasize key points? Take time to share quotations along the way. These tend to spark interesting discussions, especially when students strongly agree or disagree with the opinions expressed.
4. Do your students currently feel any impact from climate change? The answer to this will depend on where you live in the world. Point out that certain portions of the globe–e.g., the Arctic, and small island nations close to sea level–are experiencing dramatic changes even now. Discuss this. Who will feel the impact first, and what will the result of that impact be? For example, suppose the inhabitants of Tuvalu (p. 13, 158) find their small island nation is no longer liveable; what will they do? And if some of us in North America don’t sense any real change yet, do we have any reason or moral obligation to worry? Write about this.
5. Climate change has sometimes been referred to as global warming (see p. 18). But they are not quite the same thing. After sharing several passages from the book, have students write an explanation of the difference. Note that the chapter “How Do We Know That the Climate Is Changing?” (p. 25ff) traces changes over the past 1,000 years. The chapter titled “But Hasn’t the Climate Always Changed” (p. 43ff) takes a much longer view, showing how the Earth has fluctuated from an ice-age to tropical climate–and back again.
6. How much would the temperature need to change, on average, to make a significant difference in our way of life here on Earth? Make some predictions about this and create a class chart. Students’ estimates are likely to vary widely–from a single degree to ten degrees (or even more). Follow up your opening discussion by sharing the chapter titled “If It’s Only a Few Degrees, What Difference Will It Make?” (p. 61ff). You may also wish to share the concept of a “tipping point,” using the metaphor from the book of leaning backward in a chair (p. 66ff). What happens when you lean too far? What is the tipping point in climate change? Are we there yet? Write about this.
7. What is the U.S. as a nation doing about climate change right now? Discuss this, and share information from “A Short History,” pp. 170 and following. You may also ask students to do some research about any measures taken by your state or local community. This makes for an outstanding writing topic with highly focused research.
8. An enormous portion of this book (all of Section Two) is devoted to identifying realistic everyday ways of slowing climate change, and thereby keeping Earth more inhabitable. Ask students what, if anything, they may be doing already. Make a list. If your school is involved in a related project (monitoring or controlling electrical use, maintaining a garden), this is a good time to talk about that. Then share selected passages from Section Two. You may want to begin with the Problem-Solution introduction, on pages 84-86.
9. Since Section Two is so big, and so packed with ideas and tips on websites to explore or agencies to contact, the amount you share orally may be more limited than for Section One. Here’s a suggestion: Focus on one or two ideas that may capture your students’ interest, such as “Driving Mad” (a biking movement initiated by a student in London), p. 112 and following; and “Dressing for the Climate” (a clothing recycling plan developed by fashion designer Nin Castle), p. 136 and following. These two sections may spur students to come up with ideas of their own–which they can discuss or write about. Davies consistently drives home the point that even very small changes in our lifestyles can make a big difference. If this is true, what small changes could a student in your classroom or person in your community make? Write about this. Encourage students to explore Section Two further on their own or in small groups.
10. Share James Lovelock’s Afterword essay, beginning on page 183. Talk about the expression “Gaia warriors.” What does it mean? Is it a fitting title for this book? You may also wish to have students write about the concept of “Gaia warriors” and/or write a personal response to Lovelock’s essay.
Coming up . . .
Gaia Warriors is an outstanding book for illustrating or initiating persuasive writing. In the next post, we’ll show how to give this informational text a persuasive spin. Also, do your students struggle with understanding the concept of plagiarism? If so, they’re not alone. It’s difficult for students to comply with the Common Core Standards unless they can distinguish among quoting, paraphrasing, and plagiarizing–and know when and how to cite sources. Watch for an upcoming post on this topic! Thanks for coming–and bring friends! We are growing, and we REALLY want to give that book away soon.