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Starter Activity 7: Stealing from the future
Stealing from the future

This activity aims to reinforce the idea that unsustainable living now has a detrimental effect on the choices of future generations.

When to use the activity
It would be particularly relevant at the start of an AS or A2 project where you want students to understand the implications of their choices now. It might be helpful to have completed a foot printing activity first (e.g. SA6).

Who’s the activity for
It can be used with any age group, including lower down the school.

Sustainability issues considered
You can bring in any issues through your choice of examples but it’s particularly likely to provoke discussion about moral choices – should we think about future generations?

The activity and hints on how to organise it
Time: 5-10 minutes

• Equipment needed: 4 ten pound notes or similar (You might like to design your own “resources” tokens and give them a value.)

• Ask for four volunteers, and bring them up to the front. Ask them to stand next to each other facing the ‘audience’. Ask them what their names are if necessary. (For the purposes of this explanation I will call them A, B, C and D though naturally you will use their real names.)

• Tell the audience that A represents a parent and that B is his daughter, C is B’s son and D is C’s daughter. Thus we have four generations. Suggest that A is 35, B is 15 and that C and D have not yet been born – they are the future generations.

• Give each of them a £10 note. Explain that the money represents not cash, but the earth’s natural resources - fresh water, timber, oil and so on. Point out that in the interests of fairness everything has been divided evenly – children will naturally see that this is the right thing to do.

• Now interview A. Say that he or she is going for a holiday. They can go anywhere they like. Ask if they will take their child, B who almost certainly will say yes. Ask them where they want to go, encourage them to have a holiday of a lifetime. Almost certainly they will want to go to some remote and exotic destination in the tropics. Keep this and all subsequent discussions light so that everyone can have a laugh.

• Say that this will use quite a lot of oil and cause significant carbon emissions etc., and take their ten pound notes from them saying that they have used up their allowance of natural resources.

• If there is any comment from C or D shut them up saying that they have not been born yet.

• Now ask A and B what they would like to do this coming year. Another holiday perhaps? Or maybe a nice new car? Encourage them to aim for something really nice. This has to be paid for by taking the £10 from C, as A and B have already spent their inheritance. Again if C protests point out that she hasn’t been born so she cannot say anything.

• Then do it again – maybe this time buying a new house. Take the £10 from D to pay for it.

• Now explain that we are sixty years later. A is dead and buried. B has lost her marbles and is in a home. By now C is 30 and D is 5. Ask C what he wants do for a holiday. Almost certainly he will want to take his child somewhere nice – but there are no resources left. If he wants to have a local holiday, point out that due to climate change, pollution etc. this is hardly an attractive proposition. Explain that there are no forests left, nor hardly any natural spaces. There is nowhere for them to go. It is a bleak prospect.

• Then ask C and D how they feel. Usually they will feel pretty bitter that previous generations have lived so thoughtlessly. Ask A and B how they felt. Usually they will say that they got on with life and enjoyed it. Unpack the experiences as appropriate.

You may wish to say that living as though we have three planets is ‘borrowing from the future’. But ‘borrowing’ implies that we can repay it. Surely it is more accurate to say that we are ‘stealing from the future’?


Starter Activity 1: What's wrong with the world?Starter Activity 2: Belief CirclesStarter Activity 3: Line-upsStarter Activity 4: Product PairsStarter Activity 5: The Bigger PictureStarter Activity 6: Footprint Analysis