Feedback Loops

Feedback loops keep scientists up at night. In this interactive tool, teach the concept of feedback loops and they make the climate crisis such a threat.

Time: 20 minutes

Materials needed: Feedback Loops, preferably printed in colour and/or a projector


“I have bad news and neutral news.The bad news is that climate scientists are literally losing sleep over this. The reason isn’t just the incremental warming. It’s what are known as feedback loops. When the heat gets worse, it causes bad things to happen which in turn causes more carbon dioxide to be released, which in turn causes more heat… these feedback loops are what are terrifying scientists because they can cause runaway climate change — where our heat begins to spike far faster than we can acclimate.

“The neutral news isn’t really news. It’s the set-up of the activity. We have copies of these scientists’ nightmares. These are all real. Two have good news. We will hand them out to you and you will have to try to guess what they are.”

Handout the Feedback Loops (depending on how they have been printed, this is better if you can quickly hand out one at a time so we’re all looking at the same one). Alternatively, if it is easy, you can display these on a projector.

Make sure people do not read the handouts. They have to follow instructions carefully so they are only looking at the image side first.

Have the group look at the first image and “try to interpret this dream/nightmare.” 

After each image is a description of that feedback loop on the back page that people can read about to learn what is. (Note: the handout is in order of complexity: so starting with the wildfires will make it easier to keep growing…)

Continue through all the images.

Try not to make this a bummer session — but the implications are truly disastrous. Make sure the group closes on the “activism” feedback loop. 

Close by affirming we’re going to talk about how to fight against the bad feedback loops.


A scientific note on language:

  • In this course we do not use the scientific language of POSITIVE and NEGATIVE loops. POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP: In a positive feedback loop, an initial warming triggers a feedback to amplify the effects warming. NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOP: Whereas negative feedback loops reduce the effects of climate change.
  • So scientifically “POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS” on climate change are bad.
  • We think this is confusing for the non-scientific community. However, we mention it here just in case someone in your room does know this academic language and references it.