“Hack Your Impact” Lesson Plan and Worksheet

How is our climate changing, and what kind of action (or inaction) is causing the climate to change? This interdisciplinary lesson plan will allow students to measure their own carbon footprint, and encourage discussion of ways to lessen the damage we’re doing to our earth.

“Curriculum should be adjusted in response to the reality we’re facing: kids should be learning how to live without fossil fuels, and how to grow food, and how to build community – in addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic.”

—Peter Kalmus, NASA climate scientist and father


Part One: Background on Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuel is a combustible material in the form of oil, coal, and natural gas. These fuels are what’s left of living organisms buried millions of years ago. That’s right. Every time you turn the key to your car’s ignition, you’re burning decomposed dinosaurs.

Check out this infographic that explains the ways fossil fuels are extracted from the earth, and how burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change.


Carbon 101 infographic by the Environmental Literacy Council 



Part Two: “Hack Your Impact” Worksheet

Instead of just plugging in numbers for an automated answer—the way a majority of carbon calculators work—this worksheet prompts students to do all the back-end conversions themselves. They will turn each of their energy-consuming activities into carbon dioxide to better understand their carbon footprint.

When coming up with their carbon emissions figures (except from their parents’ electric and natural gas bills), have your students make their best guess. They can also create an uncertainty range with their lowest and highest guesses.

Extra credit for gathering a year’s worth of utility bills!


Download the worksheet pdf


Part Three: Where Do We Go From Here?

Now that you know a bit more about the “numbers,” it’s time to make some decisions. There are some small things you can do, like recycle plastic, and there are some big things you can do like avoid air travel as much as you can. These decisions depend on your situation. Different choices for different people.

By making these changes now, we create a world better for ourselves and for our children. When more people start living mindfully about how we use our planet’s resources, we save the world—and the dinosaurs.


Group discussion questions:

  • If we continue on the path of extracting and burning fossil fuels, where do you think the world will be in 10 years? What kind of world will the next generation inherit? 

  • How do people in developed countries, like America, impact the climate and livelihood of people in underdeveloped countries? 

  • In spring 2015, we surpassed the 400 parts per million level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (350 parts per million is what scientists think is safe). What are our options as individuals to reduce carbon emissions? As a country? 

  • What fossil-fueled activity are you willing to cut down on? Fill in the blank: I can live with more _____________ and less _____________ .

  • Peter Kalmus says that living without fossil fuels need not be a sacrifice; it can even make you happier. How might you be happier by learning to grow your own food, riding your bike instead of driving or riding in the car, or vacationing locally (which means no air travel)?

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