Climate change scientists have a new high-rise tower window on the Amazon rainforest to capture children’s imaginations by giving them a view from the top. The towering structure gives teachers a chance to start conversations in the classroom about the delicate balance in the Amazon ecosystem, deforestation and the impact daily lifestyle choices have in preserving or destroying the rainforest. Encouraging children from an early age to develop a global perspective on their ability to make a difference in the world through their personal choices is a necessary step in changing the future of the diminishing rain forest.
The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory sits about 100 miles outside Manaus, Brazil and edges out the Chrysler Building in New York City by 20 feet at the imposing height of 1,066 feet. Thousands of pounds of steel were hauled in by raft and truck for the tower’s construction. It is not the first observation tower to rise from the Amazon treetops, but will add its observations to the interconnected grid of smaller lookout towers. USA Today reports the new tower will provide answers to many global climate change questions and the part the Amazon plays in the big picture of worldwide climate patterns, according to the optimistic predictions of tower project coordinator Paulo Artaxo of the University of Sao Paulo. The tower is slated to collect data on wind and cloud formation, weather patterns and carbon gas to give scientists a clearer view of the overall relationship between climate change and the increasing deforestation of the rain forest.
The physical scope of the project alone is enough to fire many children’s imaginations with fascination for jumbo size objects. Teachers can capitalize on this appeal to fuel classroom conversations about the environmental dangers lurking among the towering Amazon treetops, aimed at giving the children an expanded viewpoint on the global repercussions of human activity on climate change. Through discovery-based learning children can learn to recognize the problems that humans create for the delicate jungle ecosystem and brainstorm practical solutions. The new tower sits in an area far from human civilization giving scientists, teachers and students a chance to compare the state of the atmosphere in an area not directly influenced by human activity with areas that have a significant amount of human encroachment, according to Jürgen Kesselmeier, one of the project coordinators from the Max Planck Institute.
Judith Graziano, a middle school science teacher in Metuchen, N.J. shares how a recent professional development trip to the Amazon highlighted the potential for hands-on STEM lessons that connect local ecosystems to the rainforest ecosystem to help children make a connection between the remote location and their personal experience. She plans to have her students compare rainfall and humidity in local forests and around the world to lead them to discover how the rainforest affects global climate.
Although not every teacher can make a personal trip into the Amazon rainforest, they can guide their students in following the scientific data from the observation towers. They can help students make cause and effect connections between human activity, what is happening to the Amazon region and worldwide events such as droughts, wildfires, pollution and famine. Helen Muri, a geoscience researcher at the University of Oslo, explains that each tree that is cut down for logging or farmland, removes at least 300 liters of water per day from the ecosystem, which may have contributed to the disappearance of the Amazon’s “flying rivers” which have been a major source of precipitation in the Amazon. Less water means drought, which leads to lack of thriving plant life in the rainforest, which leads to a shortage of animal food sources, which leads to human food and medicine shortages.
Once children recognize that human demand for rainforest products and farmland causes deforestation, they can begin to explore the residual effects of the dwindling rainforest. The diminishing supply of available rainwater reduces the recycling and atmospheric cleansing effect of the enormous amounts of moisture the rainforest produces and increases the carbon dioxide pollution that results from burning the rainforest to clear the land. However, weather systems are not static or closed so what happens in the rainforest can carry over to other regions of the world and become a global rather than a local problem.
Diane Jukofsky works with the Rainforest Alliance in Costa Rica and reminds kids that they can make a difference too. Cross-curricular lessons in consumer awareness can help children discover rainforest-friendly labelled products and encourage them to buy them whenever possible. From “FSC-certified” wood products to recycled paper to avoiding foods containing palm oil, which comes from the rainforest, Jukofsky insists that everyone has a part to play in saving the rainforests.
The Amazon tower soaring above the topmost emergent layer of the rainforest gives children a tangible view into the power they hold in the their hands to make a difference that affects the entire planet in taking concrete action to minimize the damaging effects of climate change on the fragile ecosystem. By engaging in thought-provoking conversations with children about their responsibilities as global citizens, teachers encourage them to choose environmental habits that will benefit the entire planet. Planting that seed of mutual responsibility to look beyond self and promote the universal welfare of all human beings and the environment is paramount to any wide-scale paradigm shift that is going to have the staying power necessary to reverse the destructive influence of climate change due to habitat loss and bring the Amazon back to its full living beauty and productivity.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser