Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 1
Walking on Air
You probably don’t think much about air. You can’t see it, or hear it, or grab a handful of it. It’s almost as if it weren’t there. And yet it’s just about the most precious thing in the world.
Try holding your breath for five minutes. Can you do it? Of course not. Your body won’t let you. You can try to hold your breath until your face turns red and purple, but the muscles in your lungs and chest will soon force you to breathe. That’s how much your body needs air.
From your first breath to your last, you must have air. If you didn’t have air for just five or six minutes, you would die. All of us Earthlingspeople, animals, and plantsneed air to live. And the amazing thing is, not only does air keep us alive, it also ties us together. It’s as if we were all swimming in an “air soup.” when you breathe out, atomstiny, invisible particlesof air fly out of your nose and go right up the noses of all the people near you!
You’re Breathing Dinosaur Breath
Did you know that the next breath you take will contain dinosaur breath? It sounds weird, but it’s true. Here’s how it works. Air is really a mixture of several gases. A gas is a light, invisible substance that floats freely in the airsteam, for example. Two of these gases, nitrogen and oxygen, make up almost all of the air.
There is only a small amount of the gas argon in the air. Yet each breath you breathe out, or exhale, contains about 30,000,000,000,000,000,000 (you can call that 30 zillion) atoms of argon. In a few minutes, the atoms you’ve exhaled in that one breath will travel right through your neighborhood. In a year, they will have spread all around the Earth, and about 15 of them will be right back where they startedin your nose.
Argon is always in you and around you. And not just in you but also in your best friend, your favorite pop star, the birds, snakes, flowers, trees, and worms. All of us air breathers are sharing in that same “pool” of argon atoms.
So here’s where the dinosaurs come in. An interesting thing about argon atoms is that they never change or diethey stay around forever. That means that thousands of years ago, an Egyptian slave building the pyramids breathed some of the same argon atoms that later Joan of Arc, Napoleon, and Napoleon’s horse breathed. And some of those were argon atoms exhaled by dinosaurs that lived 70 million years ago. They all breathed out argon atoms into the airready for you to breathe in as you read this sentence. And when you exhale your next 30 zillion argon atoms, some of them will one day find their way into the noses of babies not yet born.
What’s true of argon is true of air in general. Air joins together all of Earth’s creaturespast, present, and future.
From Chapter 8
It’s Your World Now
You will spend most of your life in the 21st century. This is your world, and it’s a wonderful worldbut it has some problems. Global warming, pollution, habitat destruction, energy shortagesthese are big challenges that require big efforts from nations working together. But smaller actions by individuals and groupsif there are enough of themcan be very powerful, too. Each one of us can do something to help.
“But I’m just a kidI can’t save the world”
Young people often know more about what’s happening to the environment than adults do. And many of them are working hard to change things. The following stories are just a few examples to show what kids and teenagers can do.
The Idle-Free Girls
Katelyn Morran, Rachel Perrella, Neely Swanson, and Destiny Gulewich are grade 7 students at Stonewall Centennial School in Stonewall, Manitoba. The girls have spread their idle-free message throughout their town and in Winnipeg and the surrounding area.
It all started when we studied weather and climate change in grade 5 and we became concerned about global warming. We decided to choose a project that could have a big impact on the environment, so we started an anti-idling campaign.
Our goal was to make our community idle free, where people would not idle their vehicles for more than 10 seconds. We wanted to educate youth and adults about the harmful effects to our environment and our health caused by leaving a car’s motor running when you are not driving it. Idling not only adds to global warming but it wastes fuel and pollutes the air, which can cause asthma and other health problems. We created student and public awareness through presentations, media events, the Internet, displays, pamphlets, and Idle-Free Zone signs. Soon after making our presentations to the town council, Idle-Free signs were put up all around town, and we became known as the “Idle-Free Girls.” The support for our campaign has been incredible. People are always telling us they notice there is a lot less idling in town now.
We continue to learn more about climate change through research and by attending climate change events and communicating with experts in the field. Kids can make a difference. We can all help the environment by riding our bikes to sporting events, walking to school, or car pooling to work to reduce car emissions. Remember, every bit counts!
EcoTeam Works for Greener Schools
Alison Lee was a grade 10 student at Marc Garneau C.I. in Toronto, Ontario, when she started the EcoTeam club to raise environmental awareness at her school.
In our first year, we had only 10 members in a school of 2000. We started by taking a survey of students’ carbon footprintshow much energy they were using. We then made sure each class had a recycling bin and trays to stack paper for re-use. To reduce litter and promote school pride, we painted colorful designs on the hallway garbage bins.
The next year we had 30 members, and we added a “Lights Off” monitoring program to make sure lights were turned off when not in use. We also hosted an open house for secondary school groups interested in starting an environmental team. And we put on a Green Screens film festival of short environmental films created by students.
Another project we started was an annual student cleanup of Toronto parks. We met regularly with students from five other schools to plan it out. There were four cleanup events around the city for Earth Week 2008. The cleanup by my EcoTeam happened at Sunnybrook Park and attracted students from three other schools. Local schools working together to improve our community was a great example of city-wide teamwork!
This year, our third year, we have 50 members. I have encouraged many smaller groups to form and take on more projects, which has broadened our impact. I am also part of a city environmental council. We tackle environmental issues in secondary schools on a larger scale. We work with the people who provide resources and services for Toronto schools to develop more sustainable habits that increasingly reflect what students want.