Web of life
Tug at one thing in nature, and you will find it attached to the rest of the world!
In this activity, participants brainstorm links in a global food web.
• The interdependency of living and non-living things
• The inevitable impact of all human activity on the environment, and the consequences
- Related rights
• The right to life, liberty and personal security
• The right to freely dispose of their (the people's) natural wealth
• Freedom of belief and religion
• To learn about the interdependency of living and non-living things
• To develop skills to work co-operatively and think critically
• To foster respect for the intrinsic value of life
• A ball of thin string or strong wool
- 2 OctoberInternational Day for Natural Disaster Reduction
This activity is divided into 3 parts: part 1 – building the web of life; part 2 – its destruction; part 3 – a brainstorming activity of actions to protect the environment.
1. Ask participants to stand in a circle.
2. Explain that they are to build a model of the web of life.
3. You start. Hold the ball of string in your hand and name a green plant, for instance a cabbage.
4. Hold onto the end of the string and throw the ball to someone across the circle. They catch it! There is now a straight line of string between the two of you.
5. This person has to name an animal that eats cabbages, for instance, a caterpillar. They then hold onto the string and throw the ball to a third person across the circle.
6. This third person has to think of an animal that feeds off caterpillars, for instance, a bird, or if they know one, they can say a species of bird, such as a thrush. They then throw the ball to a fourth person.
7. Continue the game so that the ball of string passes back and forth across the circle until you have created a criss-cross mesh that represents the "web of life".
8. Now ask each participant in turn to give a specific example of what is damaging this web of life, (for instance, motorways being built over farmland, over-fishing or burning fossil fuels). When they have spoken, they let go of the string.
9. When everyone has spoken, ask participants to look at the heap of tangled threads lying uselessly on the floor. Tell them that this will be our world if we do nothing, but that it doesn't have to be like this; there are simple things that we can all do to rescue something out of the present situation.
10. Invite participants in turn to make a promise to take a simple, practical action to rescue the world. For example, to save electricity by shutting down their computer rather than leaving it on stand-by, eat less meat or fly less.
11. As each person makes a promise, they pick up a thread at random from the floor.
12. At the end, look for a minute at the new web and point out that it isn't the same web as they had before; it is too late for that; true recovery is impossible because extinctions are irreversible.
Start with asking how participants felt first seeing the web destroyed and then creating the new one. Then go on to talk about the issues involved and what needs to be done to protect the environment.
- What did you feel as you saw the web gradually being destroyed?
- Was it easy to name animals and plants in different food webs? How good is people's knowledge of natural history?
- Does it matter to you if, for instance, polar bears become extinct in 10 years time?
- How did you feel as you saw the new web forming?
- Was it easy to think of personal actions that reduce our impact on the environment?
- How effective are individual actions?
- Whose responsibility is it to protect the environment? The UN, governments, NGOs, individuals?
- The balance of nature is very complex and it is not easy to predict what the global consequences of any particular action will be. How then is it possible to make decisions about how we use the earth's resources?
- How should decisions about how to use a resource be made? For example, whether to cut down a forest so that the land can be used for growing crops? The people who gain their livelihood from the forest will suffer at the expense of those who make a profit from the agriculture. There is a principle of equity at stake.
- Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights states that "all peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources." Does this mean that people have a right to damage the environment?
- We rely on our environment to provide us with food to eat and clean air to breathe. Without a healthy environment we could not live. It is a condition for life. Do we therefore have a paramount duty to respect the environment that limits our rights to use it (in the same way that we have a duty to respect rights and freedoms of others, which limits our own rights as individuals)?
- Do we need any new human rights to protect us from the consequences of climate change?
This activity works best with between 10–15 people. If there are lots of participants, run the activity in several groups.
Each food chain should illustrate actual or possible relationships: for example, grass – sheep – humans; or plankton – whales; or plankton – herrings – pigs (pigs are often fed fishmeal) – humans – tigers! Remember that when an animal dies, bacteria decay its body, and the minerals released are taken up by other green plants. Thus the cycle of life begins over again. Billions and billions of such cycles interlink to make the web of life.
Try to get participants to think of as many different food chains as possible. Think about examples in woodland, forest, mountain, moor land, marsh, pond, river and marine habitats. You may need to intervene by saying something like, "now the minerals get washed to the sea and get used by marine phytoplankton (plant plankton)". Or, for example, to move from a marine ecosystem to a terrestrial one you may have to say "now the seagull that ate the shore crab flew inland to scavenge over farmland where it died". If a player cannot think of the next link, suggest they may ask others in the group for suggestions.
In part 2, the first few times participants let go of the string will not make much difference because the way the threads criss-cross over each other will hold the web more or less together. However, as more people let go you will be left with a heap of useless thread lying on the floor surrounded by a circle of people standing helpless.
In part 3 in the debriefing, you will have to be prepared for some controversial answers to the question "what is damaging the web?" Some people, for instance, vegetarians, may say that people eating meat damages the web. You should acknowledge the point of view and ask the other players for their opinion. However, be careful not to enter into a big debate at this stage; finish the game first and then return to it at the end in the debriefing and discussion.
Try not to get bogged down in the discussion, but keep to the aim of the activity, that is, the effect of human activity on the environment.
You can find good examples of success stories on www.ecotippingpoints.org. You should also look out for local sources of information. For example, in Portugal the association Quercus (www.quercus.pt) regularly uses public TV to give information about environmental issues and tips on how to reduce our impact on the environment – how to live in a more "environmentally friendly" way.
You may want to read the background information in chapter 5 before asking the questions about the relationship between human rights and the environment.
This is a good activity to do with a science class.
In part 2, when you ask participants to give specific examples of what is damaging this web of life, take a pair of scissors and for each example make one cut in the string web. Gradually the web gets destroyed and at the end all you have at your feet is a heap of useless string. The destroyed web is a very powerful image and the global situation is indeed depressing, but it is important that people do not feel helpless in the face of the task ahead. It is therefore essential that you leave time to follow up with at least a short brainstorming activity or discussion about the progress that is currently being made to protect the environment.
Brainstorm local and global environmental success stories. It is not all hopeless! There are many people active all over the world who are working to ensure that a sustainable environment is held in trust for future generations. "Tackling climate change, communities making a difference", produced by Act International Alliance, is an excellent resource for this.
This activity can be used as a starter for a debate about human rights and the environment. For example, would it be a good idea if there were a human right to the environment, like there are other human rights? Does the environment have value over and above its instrumental value? Does it make sense to give animals rights? (see the background information)
Developing the sustainable use of resources requires political will, time, effort and money. Think how much more all countries could do by way of environmental education, scientific research and practical environmental protection schemes if they did not spend so much on armaments and the military. If the group would like to explore those issues further, they could do the activity "How much do we need?".
Climate change is affecting all living things everywhere. Severe effects of, for example, flooding, desertification and sea-level rise mean that many people can no longer survive in their present place of habitation and are forced to move. If you are interested in exploring some of the issues relating to climate refugees, you can run the activity "Three things".
Get involved with local environmental projects. There are many NGOs you could contact:
- Youth and Environment Europe (YEE). YEE is the umbrella organisation for over forty regional and national self-governing youth organisations involved in the study and conservation of nature and environment throughout Europe. www.tigweb.org
- Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E). CAN-E is recognised as Europe's leading network working on climate and energy issues. With over 127 members in 25 European countries, CAN-E unites to work to prevent dangerous climate change and promote sustainable energy and environment policy in Europe.
- Friends of the Earth www.foei.org
- The WWF Network works with governments, businesses and communities around the world so that people and nature thrive within their fair share of the planet's natural resources. www.wwf.org
Reduce your personal carbon footprint. At www.cutco2.org you can find a number of very practical tips. You can also find inspiration from the group Young People Finding Solutions to Reduce Their Carbon Footprint on Facebook.
In nature everything is connected to everything else. All living things and non-living things are linked through cycles, for example, the carbon cycle and the water cycle. Food chains are part of these cycles. A food chain starts when a green plant uses light energy from sunshine, minerals in the soil and water to build their own food to give them energy to live and to grow. When a green plant, for instance, a cabbage, gets eaten, the minerals and energy stored in the leaves are passed on and used, for instance, by the caterpillar to live and grow. As each animal in turn is eaten by another, the energy and minerals get passed on through the food chain. When the animal at the top of the food chain dies, its body decays as it is "eaten" by bacteria. The minerals that were in the body are taken up by green plants and a new food chain begins.