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
• 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’?