Cookies, Jello, And How Climate Change Affects The Great Lakes

BY ON July 10, 2013

A young boy staring at a plate of cookies

My preschoolers ask a lot of questions. Parents know that their children’s curiosities come in the form of relentless questions. On a recent trip to Lake Erie to visit the beach I had spent many childhood summers, the questions started as soon as we got on the highway when my four year old noticed the exhaust coming from the large truck in front of us. As I answered one question about exhaust and the air we breathe, another question quickly followed, until I needed to explain why it’s getting hotter and hotter. Honestly, I hadn’t thought I’d need to explain climate change to my child yet.

Cookies And Climate Change

When you are explaining things to young children, it’s often helpful to use books and tactile examples. Food experiments work well. Global Warming is literally the heating up of our Earth, and how else to show your little ones how this happens, but to bake cookies? When you bake a batch of cookies and watch them through the oven window, the cookie dough heats up and as the ingredients melt and change composition, the cookies rise. When you take the cookies out of the oven, the temperature cools and the cookie falls and cracks. Children can understand that when the Earth heats up, the ingredients of the Earth change — polar icecaps melt and lakes dry up. Instead of getting a delicious plate full of cookies, you wind up with a damaged ecosystem.

Jello And The Great Lakes

My son questioned, Why does the Lake smell so bad? Lake Erie is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, so the ecosystem is more delicate than the other Lakes. Less than 48 hours before we arrived in Marblehead, Ohio, severe storms ravaged the coast of Lake Erie. The pounding rain and strong winds stirred up the waters, spreading silt throughout. If the algae doesn’t create the stench, the dying fish tossed up on the shore certainly will.

This is a sad phenomenon. I explained that this is kind of like Jello. If you take a shallow dish of water and dump a packet of Jello (lime would drive the point home), it stays in place initially. When you gently shake the water, the Jello spreads out a little bit, but stays on top of the water; just as normal wave patterns spread the algae around the Lake. But if you whisk the water, like strong storms whip up lake water, the Jello spreads throughout all the water and nothing is left untouched. Once the pollution in the Lakes get stirred up, you can’t escape it. Just as the lime Jello, color and flavoring seeps into the water molecules of a cooking experiment, the pollution in the water takes over the ecosystem and damages it.

Food isn’t the answer to every question your child may have about Global Warming and Climate Change, but it can be very helpful at getting the conversation started! If you need more help answering questions, here are a 5 more resources:

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TOPICS: Climate Change, Food, Great Lakes, Ohio

  • Angie

    Fabulous article loved every word!

    • Laura Burns

      Thank you!