• Views 82
  • Favorites
Photo by Anthony Lee via Unsplash


Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History


8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Type

  • Videos, 3 minutes, 40 seconds, CC

Regional Focus


How Carbon Affects Nearly Everything on Earth – Including Our Future

Ask a Question

  • This illustrated video describes the carbon cycle, demonstrating how climate change affects everything and everyone due to carbon's ubiquity on Earth.
  • The video features excellent visuals showing carbon atoms pumping through the atmosphere into living organisms and the ocean in a cycle of carbon sources and sinks.
  • Next, the video highlights the imbalance in the carbon cycle caused by humans burning fossil fuels and by farming and deforestation.
Teaching Tips


  • This video uses observed data on a graph to show evidence of a changing climate due to excess greenhouse gases from human activities.
  • By showing carbon in different locations at the molecular level (represented by a C in a bubble), students gain an introduction to a bit of the chemistry of climate change.
  • This is a great introductory video about the carbon cycle for many age groups.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should know that the element carbon is represented by the letter C.
  • Students should be familiar with different types of fossil fuels and their use.


  • Younger learners may benefit from stopping the video periodically to check for understanding, as well as slowing the video playback speed to allow adequate time to read the text and view the animations.
  • Before watching the video, ask students if they know of different places that carbon is stored on Earth.
  • A graphic organizer may be helpful for students to take notes on different processes in the carbon cycle, such as photosynthesis, decomposition, erosion, ocean acidification, and volcanism.
  • Consider having students investigate alternative energy sources and discuss if they impact the carbon cycle.
Scientist Notes
This video resource from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History uses clever animation to describe the carbon cycle. The natural climate cycle, as it has operated for tens of millions of years, connects plants, soil, oceans, and volcanoes to the atmosphere, which is depicted as a large gas tank. The whole tone of the video changes with the industrial revolution as fossil fuels begin to be mined and burned, deforestation and farming increase, and atmospheric carbon grows by 42% over the last 150 years. A warming climate and ocean acidification are listed as results of the growth in atmospheric carbon, and the video closes with a call to action to reduce carbon emissions to improve our quality of life. This video very clearly illustrates the carbon cycle and how human activity has thrown it out of whack. This resource is recommended for teaching.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
      • HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
      • HS-ESS2-6. Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-5. Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
      • HS-ESS3-3. Create a computational simulation to illustrate the relationships among the management of natural resources, the sustainability of human populations, and biodiversity.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • 5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
      • MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
      • HS-LS2-3. Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
  • Related Resources


    Login to leave a review