Climate change, a shift in global temperatures is a natural phenomenon. Yet, in the past few decades, humans have been speeding up this process by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Humans add CO2 to the air when they use electricity or travel in automobiles.
Carbon dioxide is called a "greenhouse gas" because it traps heat in the atmosphere - much like a greenhouse captures warmth inside it. The higher levels of CO2 are slowly but surely raising earth's average surface temperatures. This temperature increase is also known as global warming, and the consequences of this phenomenon can alter the world in a frightening way.
"We now know that by changing the atmosphere we're going to change the whole climate system of the whole earth, and that's going to affect billions of people," says G. Michael Purdy, who is the director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City.
Scientists predict that global warming could affect the planet in several ways, including:
•Oceans could become more acidic because when CO2 dissolves in seawater, it forms carbonic acid. The extra acidity would have an impact on most ocean life.
•Sea levels are likely to rise as ice in polar regions melts. The added water could, over several centuries, swamp coastal cities.
•Droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other storms may occur more often and could last longer or be stronger,
•Some of the habitats where animals live will change, and because of this, some species might become extinct.
If these changes occur, they won't be things just watched on TV. They will affect everyone in ways that everyone will notice.
"[Kids are] going to start seeing the impact on [their] own neighborhoods as weather patterns change," says Jorian Clarke, founder and president of the website KidsCom.com. "We've already seen in just the past two years floods and forest fires that impact kids [whose homes and neighborhoods were damaged]."
The website KidsCom.com gives kids an opportunity to learn more about climate change while playing games, taking care of a virtual pet, and making new friends. The site also has a virtual world where you can become an "Idea Seeker" and set out with your friends to planets in a virtual universe in a series of team challenges.
The next game promises to be how another planet solved a water supply problem similar to Earth's.
The game that just finished was a "carbon cycle challenge." On the planet Sarillion, a grayish-yellow haze hung over the city of Kapokville. Participants had to do the research to discover the cause of the haze. Did new factories and skyrocketing population have something to do with it?
The three winners of this challenge (and their parents) got to hang out with Dr. Purdy and other scientists in New York City on Oct. 5 to 7. They went behind the scenes at the Earth Observatory's laboratories, got a special tour of the Bronx Zoo, and met with architects who design earth-friendly buildings.
But KidsCom.com is not the only website where children can have fun while making a difference.
Kids in Canada and India are doing something about climate change at Ecokids and Edugreen. The US Environmental Protection Agency has two kids' websites - one about the environment in general and one that's all about climate change. Both have games, interactive stories, and links to other interesting websites.
In addition to games, a website called "The Greens" has videos and even a blog about environmental issues.
Not only is the Internet a fun way to learn about global warming, but children can also use the technology to spread the word about it.
Last school year, students in a fourth-grade class taught by Ted Wells at the Park School in Brookline, Mass., created their own website to help teach people how to take care of the environment. The temporary site had essays, poems, cartoons, and even movies the class made to encourage people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
"We brainstormed ways to get the world to recycle, and half the class wanted to make a movie," says Jamie, the student who ran the class website. "So we just brainstormed the plot. It was really fun. We broke into groups, we pieced it all together, wrote a script, and kind of ad-libbed it along the way." This movie introduced the character of Recycling Boy, a Superman-like hero who is now famous at the Park School.
Jamie says that technology such as computers, websites, and especially games could really help kids learn about the environment, especially because they are available from anywhere.
"If every single kid in the world would go to those kinds of websites, it would really help society," he believes.
Says Wells: " Kids should understand the effect they can have on the world. Having kids realize that speaking up for things they care about is important.
"Kids should feel that power and know they're allowed to have that voice in [a] democracy."
Stresses Jamie: "Global warming isn't going to affect just the grown-ups; it's going to affect everyone. Kids live in this world, too. We should have the right to speak up."
Dr. Purdy from the Earth Observatory says that one important thing students can do to help slow climate change is to alter the way their families think about it. "Society is able to change its ways, and kids can really impact their parents and really impact their families," he urges.