BlueHelmets for climate change?

Categorie(s): Climate, Ecology, Human history and the environment, Population, Sustainable Energy, thematic lessons


‘BlueHelmets’ (or Blue Barets) are soldiers of the UN being sent to countries where people have problems because of armed conflicts. Maybe you are considering to become a BlueHelmet in the future to help building a better world. Perhaps they will be GreenHelmets in the future, when the environmental problems become more dominant.

The United Nations were founded after World War II to prevent a next world war. So it is logical that the UN send people to regions in conflict.

Causes of conflicts
Conflicts can arise around many different problems, political and religious, but also problems with oil, or water, but the changing climate can also be a cause. The fact that the changing climate can cause conflicts in the future is a reason for the UN to support research on climate. Water shortage, desertification, flooding, all can lead to severe conflicts. This is not so farfetched as it looks. Think of recent floodings in densely populated areas.Kids_in_camp_IMG_0186

The victims of conflicts live mainly in the poor countries>

Rising seas

During the last Ice Age the level of the seas was some 6 meters lower than today. For instance England was connected with the continent, the Thames was side river of the river Rhine. Sea levels are rising already thousands of years. What happens when the sea levels rise another 4 meters in the next century?

Do we have to believe these stories? And more important; what can and must we –  and the UN – do?

In this  lesson you find some short texts about different aspects of climate change,  each with some questions.

Work this way:

1.Make groups of three students (if possible 6 groups). Each group works with one aspect, – one of the cases below – reads the text, studies the questions and tries to find answers. Use any source to find your answers!

2. Each group than prepares a short presentation about the problem and possible solutions.

3. Maybe the class can start working on someaction to support the UN, or other ways to make the enormous footprint of the rich countries smaller so that people in the poorer countries, and people in the future also can have a good life. The actual climate change today is at least for a big part caused by us, humans. If we make a smaller impact on earth the climate will not change so fast.

Case I

The case of the Dutch

The Dutch Government decided in 1996 that

The mean world temperature must not rise more than 2 °C

and this must not happen with more than 0,1° C per decade

and the sea level must not rise more than 50 cm

It looks nearly comical today, how can a small country like Holland decide like this? Probably many other governments made similar decisions in those years. But in reality not much changed  since the nineties. Fossil energy is only growing worldwide, the great cause of climate change.

Anyway, what the Dutch government expected does not sound very dangerous – but can one country make the difference? And is it still possible to limit the warming up to 2º C?. And do we have to be afraid? Pessimists expect that the west of the Netherlands will disappear under water, as many other densely populated areas (the city of London, big parts of New York and Florida, Bangla Desh, etc).


1. The Dutch governement wants to develop their policy to make things not worse than that. How many percent of the world population live in Holland?

2. And how many percent of the CO2 is produced by the Dutch?nederlandondernap

3. Is being a smal country a reason to do nothing?

4. How much reduction of CO2 production would be needed to limit climate change to 2° C?

5. Some people say that wind mills are not economical because it is very expensive to build them. Explain why over the long run they are economical.

6. Others want more nuclear energy and tell that this is cheaper. Explain why nuclear energy is more expensive when all the costs (also in de far future!) are counted.

7. Think of possibilites to convince people to limit their own personal energy consumption (CO2 production) and how politicians can be convinced.

Case II

How much will the sea level rise when all the ice on land has melted?

The ice cover of Antarctica, Greenland and other places (like glaciers in Alaska, Canada, the Himalayas and Iceland) contain about 29 million cubic kilometers fresh water (1 cubic kilometer is 1 000 000 000 000 liters ). When all this ice would melt this is what will happen:

* If Antarctica melts, the sea level will rise 61 meter.

* If Greenland melts: 7 meters.

* If the rest of the ice on land melts 0,5 meter extra.zeespiegelstijging01

This can not happen in a short period, but if it happens partly and slowly, sea levels will still  rise. Scientists estimate that the melting of Greenland would take more than a thousand years.

During the twentieth century the sea level has risen about 14 – 20 cm per decade ( 1,4 – 2,0 mm/year).


1. When the climate warms up as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, the biggest icefields will not disappear completely. Why not?

2. From climate studies scientists know that the amount of snow and ice on Antarctica – and may be Greenland – will increase with a warmer world climate. Why do warmer oceans give more rain and snow?

3. Why is the North Pole not mentioned here?

4. Explain that these expectations are vey uncertain, and that nobody can say how much the sea level will rise

5. Explain why it is good to reduce CO2 production, even if the consequences are uncertain.

Case III

How much will the sea level rise from the expansion of the ocean water?

When the temperature of the air gets higher, the ocean water will also warm up, first the upper layer, but later also the deep waters. When the water warms up, it will expand. How much this expansion will be, depends on the situation: warm water expands more than cold water, and salty water expands more than fresh water during the same rising of the temperature. Also the depth makes a difference. To know how much the oceans will rise from expansion, it is not only necessary to know how much warmer the air will be, but also how the heat is transported in the water and how deep the warmth will come. In the twentieth century the oceans rose 14-20 cm (1,4,- 2,0 mm/ decade).


1. In the year 2100 the air temperature will probably be 1,4 – 5,9º C higer than in 1990 (IPCC, 2001). If we suppose that only the upper kilometer of the oceans gets warmer, how much higher will the sea level be in the tropics (average water temperature now 30ºC). Calculate for a rise of 1.5º and for 6º .

2. Calculate the same for  latitudes (like Western Europe) where the average water temperature is now 10ºC.

3. What will happen with the big movements of the oceans (like the Gulf Stream).

4. Explain that all these expectations are very uncertain, that nobody can say how much the sea level will rise in reality.

5. Explain that in spite of this uncertainty it is good to limit the burning of fossil fuels.

Case IV

CO2- production keeps growing

In the News in November 2006:In the year 2005 the production of CO2 from burning fossil fuels rose to a record of 7,9 billion tons, 3 % more than the year before. The production of CO2 has been rising every year since the start of the industrial revolution, around 200 hundred years ago, when people started burning fossil fuels in a massive scale. From the beginning of the 20th century the amount has been rising even faster, ca 3%/year. Nowadays it is 15x as much as in 1900.” (Joseph Florence of  Earth Policy Institute).

Everybody nowadays knows that carbondioxyde warms the atmosphere and that this has consequences for people, especially for people in the poorer countries. But we continue to burn more every year.


1. If the production of CO2 rises 3%, does that mean a rise of 3% in the atmosphere too?

2. How much was the percentage of CO2 two hundred years ago, and how much is it today? And
how much will it be in 2050, when we continue in the same way?

3. Which other sources of CO2 bring the gas in the atmosphere?

4.Where does a big part of the CO2 go (out of the air)?

5.Biodiesel as fuel for cars etc is seen as an important solution. Why? The car produces CO2 and H2O like any other car.

6. Biodiesel and electricity from burning biomass is less perfect than people think: a lot of fossil fuel is still needed. Explain.

Case V

The climate in the clouds

World news, 27 november 2006:

The average temperature on the North Pole has been rising 7º in the last 50 years.

Read this about the scientific work on the Pole:

‘Scientists are studying the clouds near the ‘top of the world’ hoping to solve a mystery and understand more of the warming up of the world.. The mystery is in the drops of water in the clouds. At a distance of less than 1000 kilometers from the Pole they should be frozen, but many more than expected are fluid, supercooled water.

We were surprised to see that the Arctic clouds contain a lot of supercooled fluid water, even in clouds where the temperature was minus 30º Celsius.”

If the world temperature keeps rising the North Pole region will be open sea in summer, and this Polare bpolar-bear-coaxing-babyear will have a big problem!

2005 was called the warmest year (since people have been measuring), but the debate about climate change is still going on. But not here, in the Eureka Weather Station in Nunavut in Northern Canada and not for the Inuit (‘Eskimo’s) who see how their region is melting. They do not debate, they see it happen.

Researcher Uttal said that water clouds will warm the North Pole more than iceclouds, because water keeps more heat, radiated from the earth surface. She says: “This means that the relation ice/water in the clouds might be very important for the temperatures on theNorth Pole and the meltijg of the ice,”

In Nunavut the melting is very visible: “We used to have 10 months of winter before, now only 6.” Simon Awa, an Inuit leader tells. “Every year winter comes later”.

The mean winter temperature has been rising 7º C in the last 50 years’.


1.Already for some time it is known that the most northern region is warming up faster than other parts of the world. Now scientists found a possible explanation. Does the melting of the North Pole ice also cause rising of the seas? Why, or why not?

2. What is the difference between supercooled water and normal water?

3. While the world climate is getting warmer, very high up in the air  it is getting colder. How can you explain that?

4. Why is there much Ozon just over the poles? (very high up, over 10 km)).

5. Does the effect of the supercooled water in de clouds of the Pole also have an effect on the ozon layer?

Case VI

The ecological refugee

According to estimations of World Watch Institute there are about 30 million ecological refugees in the world. Wars, etnic conflicts etc cause another 17 million refugees. The reasons why ecological refugees leave their home are different: lack of food, deforestation and the effects of climate change among others. They cause again problems because migration of big groups of people can cause conflicts and tensions in their own country and in the country where they seek refuge. Maybe the number of ecological refugees in 2050 can rise to 150 millions of people because of climate change..


1. In which way(s) can climate change make a region uninhabitable? Do you know examples of areas where people have been leaving because of climate changes. (also in historical times)?

2. According to the UN a refugee is someone who: “for good reasons fearing for his life because of race, nationality, religion, belonging to a certain group, lives outside the country of which he has the nationality, and who cannot expect protection from that country for these reasons, or, if he has no nationality, lives outside the region where he used to live and cannot return because of the same reasons.” What does this definition mean for ecological refugees?

3. Is a refugee the same as someone who asks asylum?

4. There are connections between climate change and refugees . Find out what the political parties in your country say (in their programs) about environmental issues and climate change. And about refugees. Can you see a connection between attention for environmental problems and tolerance for refugees in your country? What do you think?

5. Discuss the problem of accepting refugees in your country, political or ecological. Should there be a difference in the way they are treated?