Students often have trouble identifying indirect actions that result in a large carbon footprint. They identify cars as major producers of CO², but only think of it in terms of human transportation, as opposed to the transportation of goods. Students also have a hard time conceptualizing the manufacturing of goods such as clothing, in which the raw materials are transported to one country where the fabric is created, another country where the garments are assembled, and still another country where they are sold. When looking at these hidden contributors to climate change, it may be best to give examples that students are familiar with. Groceries such as apples, tomatoes, and milk are good examples of items students come into contact with at local stores. By using real-life examples, students can understand that their carbon footprint branches out not only to what they do, but also to what they choose to buy, and how and where it is produced. It is also important to have students look at the big picture, and this often means having them compare the carbon footprint of a typical person in the United States to someone in a developing country. Showing examples of different ways that the same task is done can help students understand how some countries contribute more to climate change than others.
Watch this video of 6th grade students in South Gate, California—a coastal community. The purpose of this classroom video is to see students discuss what a carbon footprint is.
For additional classroom context, video analysis, and reflection opportunities, read the Picture of Practice page for "Our Different Carbon Footprints" in the Changing Climate Environmental Literacy Teacher Guide, page 94.