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Climate Change Pathway

climate change iconClimate change is any significant change in climate lasting for an extended period of time. Climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among other effects, that occur over several decades or longer.

Global average temperatures are rising and the warming trend is the result of human activities. Burning fossil fuels for transportation, manufacturing, heating and cooling, and electricity generation release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Levels of these heat‐trapping gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), are increasing at a faster rate than at any other time on record. The consequences of this unprecedented change in the atmosphere are both uncertain and likely to be extreme, as is evident by the increase in extreme weather events, such as superstorms, wildfires, droughts, and floods.

students holding up climate change signs at march

Whole school communities can play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by taking actions that can shrink their carbon footprints. Schools can take a systems-thinking approach to engage in evidence-based science investigations in efforts to reduce their overall carbon footprint and, through collaboration, design resilience and mitigation solutions to the climate crisis.

Fast Facts

  • Greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor—trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and warm the planet.
  • Burning one gallon of gasoline puts 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • The amount of carbon dioxide emitted per capita in the United States is 16.5 metric tons.
  • Rainforest destruction contributes to climate change. Because trees store carbon dioxide as they grow, clearing and burning forests releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • The United States is the second largest contributor to carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, though it is home to just 4.3 percent of the world’s population. If everyone in the world lived the way people do in the U.S., it would take four Earths to provide enough resources for everyone.
  • If the Earth warms by 2.7°F (1.5°C)—which, on our current path, is expected between 2030 and 2050—6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants, and 4 percent of vertebrates will lose more than half their range.

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Climate Change Audit


Eco-Schools USA’s School-Based Carbon Calculator worksheet allows students to enter data from the school’s climate change audit, calculate carbon emissions before and after taking action, and provide visual tools in the form of charts and graphs to be utilized during classroom instruction and to illustrate classroom and/or school success.

Schools can also use the calculator to challenge other grades or schools in the district to a Cool School Challenge [3.2.2.1]. The challenge engages students and teachers in practical strategies to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions school-wide by improving energy efficiency, reducing consumption, increasing recycling, and changing transportation behaviors.

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Climate Change pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Discussion Activity

  • Ask students the following and take an average of their responses: "Raise your hands and use your fingers to show a number between 1 and 10 in response to this question: On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is not important and 10 is extremely important, how important is it to monitor and evaluate your progress in a class, on a project, in community service, or in sports?" Ask students to explain their survey response in their science notebook.
  • Now have students write in their science notebook a “textbook” definition for the words “monitor” and “evaluate.” Remind them not to include examples for their definition. This requires higher level thinking and may be difficult for some students, but will get at how well they understand the terms.
  • Next ask students to provide a real example (applied to their own lives) in which monitoring and evaluation come into play. Have students discuss their definitions and examples with someone near them.
  • Have a class discussion and share your own example of the roles monitoring and evaluation play in your life. More importantly, discuss how monitoring and evaluation play into climate science and UN-led events, like the Conferences of Parties, COP.
  • Lastly, pose the question in bullet one again. Have students work in pairs or small groups to answer the following questions: Has the average changed? What was the percent change? What are potential reasons for a shift in thinking?

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Discussion Activity

  • Ask students to define “community” in their science notebook. Encourage them to use Systems Thinking (distinctions, systems, relationships and perspectives, DSRP) when constructing their definition.
  • Next have students team up in small groups. Ask everyone to share their definition and then come up with a list of people in the community, obvious and not, who could be instrumental in helping to change the culture of the school and the community.
  • Bring all groups together to make a master list that can be used to engage, include, and build community.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Climate Change Audit


Eco-Schools USA’s School-Based Carbon Calculator worksheet allows students to enter data from the school’s climate change audit, calculate carbon emissions before and after taking action, and provide visual tools in the form of charts and graphs to be utilized during classroom instruction and to illustrate classroom and/or school success.

Schools can also use the calculator to challenge other grades or schools in the district to a Cool School Challenge [3.2.2.1]. The challenge engages students and teachers in practical strategies to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions school-wide by improving energy efficiency, reducing consumption, increasing recycling, and changing transportation behaviors.

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Climate Change pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan (K-5) | Blank Action Plan (K-5)
Sample Action Plan (6-12) | Blank Action Plan (6-12)

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Discussion Activity

  • Ask students the following and take an average of their responses: "Raise your hands and use your fingers to show a number between 1 and 10 in response to this question: On a scale from 1-10, where 1 is not important and 10 is extremely important, how important is it to monitor and evaluate your progress in a class, on a project, in community service, or in sports?" Ask students to explain their survey response in their science notebook.
  • Now have students write in their science notebook a “textbook” definition for the words “monitor” and “evaluate.” Remind them not to include examples for their definition. This requires higher level thinking and may be difficult for some students, but will get at how well they understand the terms.
  • Next ask students to provide a real example (applied to their own lives) in which monitoring and evaluation come into play. Have students discuss their definitions and examples with someone near them.
  • Have a class discussion and share your own example of the roles monitoring and evaluation play in your life. More importantly, discuss how monitoring and evaluation play into climate science and UN-led events, like the Conferences of Parties, COP.
  • Lastly, pose the question in bullet one again. Have students work in pairs or small groups to answer the following questions: Has the average changed? What was the percent change? What are potential reasons for a shift in thinking?

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Discussion Activity

  • Ask students to define “community” in their science notebook. Encourage them to use Systems Thinking (distinctions, systems, relationships and perspectives, DSRP) when constructing their definition.
  • Next have students team up in small groups. Ask everyone to share their definition and then come up with a list of people in the community, obvious and not, who could be instrumental in helping to change the culture of the school and the community.
  • Bring all groups together to make a master list that can be used to engage, include, and build community.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

goal 4 - quality education
Goal 10 - reduced inequalities
goal 13 - climate action
goal 16 - peace, justice, and strong institutions
goal 17 - partnerships for the goals

Top 10 Tips to Tackle Climate Change

Check out the many excellent resources that are available to learn about climate change, including the National Wildlife Federation's Climate Classroom website. Investigate what other schools and organizations are doing to educate their communities and take action on climate change.

Use your baseline audit to explore how everyday actions at school contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Once you know your current footprint, you can devise strategies to decrease it and keep track of your progress.

Start a WATTWATCHERS program at your school. Students patrol the halls reducing energy waste by turning off lights, computers and other devices and leaving tickets for those left on.

Energy-efficient schools can use just one-third as much energy as inefficient schools. Your school can partner with the ENERGY STAR for K-12 program to become more energy efficient, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save 30 percent or more on energy bills. Find out more about energy conservation at the Eco-Schools USA Energy pathway [2.1.4].

Reducing, reusing, and recycling at school and in the classroom conserves energy, minimizes pollution, and reduces greenhouse gases. Many items are recyclable, from office paper and beverage containers to electronic equipment and batteries. To find out more about reducing waste, check out the Eco-Schools USA Consumption & Waste pathway [2.1.3].

Planting trees, shrubs and other native plants helps your school reduce its carbon footprint by shading the school building (reducing energy use), providing carbon sinks (plants take in CO2), and also providing essential habitat for wildlife (which are often displaced due to climate change and habitat loss). To find out more about greening your school grounds, check out the Eco-Schools USA Schoolyard Habitats® pathway [2.1.7].

Driving cars is a major contributing factor to climate change. Have students explore alternatives to driving private cars to school including walking, biking and public transportation. Have students develop an anti-idling campaign to reduce vehicle exhaust in front of schools, or develop a bike- or walk-to-school-day. To find out more about reducing your school's transportation footprint, check out the Eco-Schools USA Transportation pathway [2.1.9].

By working with your cafeteria staff to locate and serve local foods whenever possible, your school will reduce the amount of energy used to produce and transport food. Most food travels thousands of miles before it is served. Local foods are not just more energy-efficient; they also tend to be fresher and less processed, promote healthy eating habits and support the local economy. Learn more using the Sustainable Food pathway [2.1.8].

Many schools today are exploring alternative energy sources including solar, wind and geothermal. Provide opportunities for students to get involved in design challenges using alternative energy sources. Competition can be a healthy driver to creativity and innovation!

"Green" or environmental careers are one of the fastest growing sectors in the job market. Most "green" careers are focused on protecting and conserving the environment. Showcase your progress on bulletin boards and displays around the school. Hold school or community events that focus on water conservation actions and wastewater issues. High school students can begin to think about college and career opportunities and explore the vast array of green jobs available by checking out the National Wildlife Federation's EcoLeaders website.