Teaching ideas kindly provided by the NEU.
These are all based on the approach of the book – If the World were a Village. This is worth getting hold of for reading corners in primary and is a really good non-fiction book to promote for world book day.
The film in the link above is suitable for secondary schools. My only caveat about it is the ‘be the best you can’ tag that they load onto it. Relentless pressure to every day in every way be better and better is one factor in stressing both teachers and students to a point of mental paralysis and ill health (discuss).
This one is better for primaries. It is ten years old, but the figures are not substantially different. These films add information beyond the activity and could be used after the first one and give a strategic image of how the world is in a three minute nutshell.
These can be done as an assembly or as a class. Some of them are very short and can be part of a wider lesson/assembly.
Some of them could be done as a class presentation to an assembly.
It’s pitched at upper KS2 and above, though I’ve done the first activity with Year 3 in the past and had an excited and thoughtful response.
The essential idea is to make big statistics graspable in human/child terms; make it possible to visualise them on a comprehensible scale, and incorporate a bit of activity into it on the Nuffield principle – ‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’
If part of a class exploration, the somewhat didactic closed questions in the summary could be opened out into a ‘philosophy for children’ type discussion, with the students themselves coming up with questions that the information sparks in them which could then be followed up, researched and discussed.
All this presupposes work done on what carbon emissions are, why they matter and what the greenhouse gas effect is.
1. Where do people live?
It helps dramatise this if you draw a big world map in the playground with chalk. This has a useful knock-on effect in that children will talk about it afterwards when they come across it and be a reminder until it wears out.
You will need cards with the names of countries/continents listed below on them.
- Brainstorm Prior knowledge. Where do you think most of the people in the world live? Write answers on WB. How do you know? Where did you hear that? Take vote?
- If not using a map have parts of classroom labelled with the continents/countries you are using.
- Explain – we are going to pretend that our class is everyone in the world and we are going to show where we all live.
- Give out cards with names of countries/continents on them (folded to keep them secret)*.
- Pick children one at a time (or do one of those games that does this) to quietly open their card and walk to the country/place on it.
- When everyone is in place, ask each country/continent to put their hand up. You might get a few “wow” or “ooh” responses to surprising ones.
- Summary; So, where do most people in the world live? Continents? Countries (China and India the only two big enough to be worth differentiating). Is there anything that surprises you?
*If you have a class of 30 plus a teacher plus a TA, the proportions should be:
- North America: 2
- South America: 3
- Europe: 4
- Africa: 5
- Asia: 20 (incorporating 7 identified as Asia/China and 6 identified as Asia/India).
This adds up to 34, so you could tweak this a bit, or invite the head/deputy or other willing colleagues in or onto the playground to make up the numbers.
The first activity is essential background to these.
2. Where have carbon emissions come from historically
With everyone sitting in their position on the world map in the playground, or in their continent/country zone in the classroom. Reference: Quantifying national responsibility for climate breakdown: an equality-based attribution approach for carbon dioxide emissions in excess of the planetary boundary – The Lancet Planetary Health
- Brainstorm prior knowledge? Which places in the world do you think are most responsible for carbon emissions – not right now, but -up to now? Write answers on WB. How do you know? Where did you hear that? Take vote?
- Explain; We are going to see which places have done the most damage up to now. If all the carbon emissions up to now were represented by this 100 square, let’s see where most of them have come from. You will need a large 100 square which is masked or set up on a WB to reveal stats when you click on it.
- Europe – give us a wave Europe – gets 42 squares out of 100, that’s 42%. 28 of those squares are from the EU, countries like Germany and France. 7% of that is from the UK (that’s us). We have 1% of the world’s population, so we’ve done 7X the damage of the average world citizen. The USA – give us a wave North America- gets 40 squares, that’s 40%. Japan, Australia and Canada get 10 squares, that’s 10%. All these places are often called the “Global North” (even though Australia is a long way South) – which is a phrase meaning the most developed and richest countries in the world. Between them, that’s 92% of the damage done so far. The Global South is everyone else. Most of the people in the world. If you are in Africa, Asia, South America, give us a wave. Between you, you have done 8 squares worth of damage – just 8%. So, the UK has done almost as much damage up to now as all of you (and that includes China and India).
- Is there anything that surprises you? What does this mean about who is most responsible and should be taking the greatest share of the costs of cleaning up the mess? This could lead on to…
3. Where are carbon emissions coming from now?
With everyone sitting in their continental/country positions. Reference. Annual total CO₂ emissions, by world region (ourworldindata.org) The graph this comes from is a terrifying illustration of just how fast carbon emissions are growing.
- Brainstorm prior knowledge. Which places do we think are creating the most carbon emissions now? Write answers on WB. How do you know? Where did you hear that? Take vote?
- Explain: we are going to see where most of the carbon emissions came from in 2018. If all the carbon emissions in 2018 were represented by this 100 square. Same drill with 100 square on WB ready to reveal stats when tapped. Europe – give us a wave etc – you 4 – have 16 squares – that’s 16% between you. North America (that’s USA and Canada) – you 2 – have 19 squares between you – that’s 19% between you. South America – you 3 – have 3 squares between you. Africa, you 4, have 4 squares between you. Asia, you 20, have 20 squares between you.
- What does this show? Which continents are creating more than their fair share of emissions? Does anything surprise you?
4. But what about countries…?
With everyone sitting in their continental/country positions with 2 children with USA cards sitting in ‘North America’, 7 with China cards and 6 with India cards sitting in ‘Asia’. Reference. Annual total CO₂ emissions, by world region (ourworldindata.org
- Brainstorm prior knowledge. Which countries do we think are creating the most carbon emissions now? Write answers on WB. How do you know? Where did you hear that? Take vote?
- We are going to compare North America with 2 countries in Asia; China and India. North America – between you, you pumped out 6 and a half billion tonnes of C02 in 2018. That’s 2 of you from our village of 100. So, how much do you have to carry each? 3 and a quarter billion tonnes. China. there’s 7 of you. Between you, you pumped out nearly 10 billion tonnes. How much is that each? Just under 1 and a half billion tonnes. India, there’s 6 of you. Between you, you pumped out 2.5 billion tonnes. How much is that each? Less than half a billion tonnes. Have two graphics on WB. One showing totals. The other showing totals divided by the number of people in each place.
- Summary question. Is it fair to compare emissions by country without taking account of how many people live there? Is it fairer to share the total amount from each country by the number of people in it to see what their individual carbon footprint is? This is called ‘per capita’ which means per person.
5. What about different levels of wealth?
This one requires a different division. Reference Confronting Carbon Inequality: Putting climate justice at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery (openrepository.com)
- Brainstorm prior knowledge. What is a carbon footprint? Write up definitions. Do we all have a carbon footprint? What sorts of activities that we all do lead to having a big carbon footprint? So, what happens to your carbon footprint if you are rich enough to do more of those things – and you do it? The richer you are the more you tend to have a big carbon footprint/the more damage the way you live does.
- Explain – we are going to look at that and see if it is true. Divide the class into three groups, could be done with cards as done before for countries/continents. If you have a class of 30 that would be 3 people as the richest 10% in the world. 15 as the poorest 50%. 12 as the middling 40%. Go to different labelled places in the room.
- So, if we have the world’s total emissions as this 100 square again – how many would the richest 10% have if things were fair. Are we agreed on 3? The actual number is a bit bigger than that. Any guesses? it can’t be more than 100 or less than 3. Answer “too high” or “too low” depending on what the response is. The actual number is 50% – half. You three are doing half the damage. What part of the world do you think most of these people live in? How many would the poorest 50% have if things were fair. Are we agreed on 50% – half? The actual number is a bit lower than that. Any guesses? Answer “too high” or “too low” depending on what the response is. The actual number is just 10%. So, half the people in the world are doing just a tenth of the damage. The middling 40% do 40% of the damage.
- Summary question. What does this tell us about which people have to change the most? What does this mean about what we want in life? Can we all live like millionaires? Would it be better for the rest of us if millionaires didn’t live like millionaires?