Tread Lightly: Learning from the Past, Defining our Future
No discussion of climate change is complete without considering what could happen if we don’t change our path to a more sustainable one. And yet, despite the alarming predictions made by the world’s leading climate change scientists, the consequences unleashed by climate change can seem remote and unimaginable.
In this lesson, students will explore what can happen when humans live beyond the limits of the natural environment through studying the demise of ancient civilizations.
Time Required: 1 class period
By learning about the mistakes made by the Vikings in Greenland, the Easter Islanders and the Anasazi of south western North America, students will:
• Confront the very real dangers that we face if we do not take serious and timely action to address climate change;
• Understand that, to survive over time, societies must live in harmony with the natural environment.
1. Divide students into 3 groups and assign each group one of the 3 collapsed societies described in handout A. Distribute to each group its respective component of the handout.
2. After reading their handouts, ask students to extrapolate what they think may have happened to the society in question. They should try to predict the fate of the society by picking up on clues contained in the handout text.
3. Have groups report back to the class, describing their assigned society and what they think its fate may have been.
4. Distribute handout B, which provides extensive explanations of what led to the collapse of each of the 3 societies, and have students work in groups to establish what could have been done in each case to avoid collapse.
5. Engage the class in a large group discussion. Suggested discussion questions are:
• What patterns do you see re-occurring in these case studies?
• Can you identify any mistakes that we are re-making now?
• Do you think we are at risk of societal collapse today?
Instructions for Students
Make sure to do your homework!
Handout A: Societies Past Handout B: Societies Collapsed
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