What is air pollution, climate change and weather?

The Grandma’s Footsteps story covers science topics like air pollution, climate change and weather. The following questions, answers and activities are written for children aged 7 to 11 years, and are suitable for Key Stage 2.

What is air pollution?

Air is made up of lots of gases and tiny objects - known as particles - but most of them are invisible. Some of those gases and particles are unwanted, because they damage plants or make people and animals unhealthy. When there are lots of unwanted and harmful gases and particles, the air can become polluted.


Some of these pollutants are natural, such as the gases that come from a volcano when it erupts, gases and particles from forest fires, and tiny grains of dust and sand from deserts that get drawn into the air during storms.


People can also do things that can create air pollution, like driving cars, using aeroplanes, generating electricity at power plants, and running factories and construction sites. You can also get air pollution from paint, cleaning sprays, and candles. Indoor air can be polluted just like outside air.

What is weather?

When you look outside today, you’re seeing what the weather’s like where you are. Is it sunny or cloudy? Is it warm or cold? Is it windy? Is it raining, or is it dry?


Weather is always changing, and is usually different during each season and where you are in the world. Patterns in weather mean that the weather can stay the same for days or weeks at a time before changing.


Every weather pattern has a knock-on effect, creating a ripple effect around the world’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is the name we give to the layer of air around the earth. Weather can happen high up in the sky, or closer to the ground where we live.

Why is weather important?

Keeping an eye on the weather can help us plan ahead. People who study and predict weather are called meteorologists.


We care about the weather because it affects our lives. It can decide how we feel, what we wear and where we go. No one likes to be on a walk without an umbrella when it’s raining, or to forget sun cream when spending time outside on a sunny day!


Some people, like farmers who grow crops, have to know about the weather for their job. At its worst, weather can be dangerous and destroy homes and hurt people.


Weather is made up of six main parts. These are temperature, atmospheric pressure, cloud formation, wind, humidity and rain. A small change to any of these can create a different weather pattern.

What is climate change?

The climate is a pattern of weather experienced in a place for a long time. You can check the weather by looking out the window each day, but the climate would be studied over seasons, years, decades or even centuries.


The climate of a place can change. If the place you live in has mountains nearby, or water, or if the place is high up, then the climate can be different.


The whole earth also has a climate that is controlled by our atmosphere, a layer of gases that surrounds the earth. These gases act like a blanket wrapped around the earth. They trap some of the sun’s heat within the sky.


Some gases trap more heat than others. The gases that trap the most heat are called greenhouse gases because they allow heat to reach the earth, but do not let it escape – similar to how a greenhouse works. The more greenhouse gases there are, the warmer the earth’s climate becomes.

What causes climate change?

Greenhouse gases are made by people all over the world. Things like using petrol or diesel fuel to drive a car, or burning coal and natural gas at power stations to create electricity, all create greenhouse gases and make the earth’s climate change.
Greenhouse gases started being made more during the Industrial Revolution, which took place over 200 years ago. The Industrial Revolution changed the way we travel and make energy and materials. This involved using fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, which all create greenhouse gases when they are burned.


When greenhouse gases started being made a lot more by people, the earth’s climate quickly changed, and is still changing today. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the snowcaps and ice sheets have started melting, and sea levels have risen.
We know this because scientists collect weather data all over the world every day. They also study materials that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, like inside trees or ice cores, to find out how the climate has changed over a longer period of time.


Climate change can make extreme and hazardous weather happen more often, so a warmer climate means more storms, flooding, heatwaves, droughts and forest fires, which can harm people and change the way we live.

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