Reality Mirror

To teach Climate justice

Time: 30-40 minutes Group Size: 10+ people

What you need: A box of 2000 marbles or corn kernels, a large biscuit tin or similar metal container.


Aims: To think critically about the impacts of climate change, particularly the displacement of peoples | To use the imagination to envision the impacts of climate change as well as a safe climate future |  To create a safe opportunity for discussion on feelings about climate change and human impacts | To take action for a safe and just climate future.



Climate refugees are real and a massive humanitarian catastrophe beginning to happen; we face potentially the largest displacement in human history of the world’s poorest people. In 2005, a comprehensive study by Norman Myers of Oxford University predicted that, at a conservative estimate, the number of environmental refugees due to climate change would increase six-fold over the next fifty years to 200 million. A report from the Intergovernmental Panel agreed, indicating it could reach 450 million. Upper estimates, such as that of the International Organisation for Migration, estimated eventually 1 billion people could be displaced because of climate change. People in Pacific Islands like Tuvalu and Carteret Islands are already evacuating their island homes, facing an increase in water-borne diseases and loss of crops; coupled with social impacts of increased community conflict, alcohol use, teen pregnancy, violence, and health impacts such as diabetes from changes in diet. It is hard to imagine.

The marble balls demonstration: Albert Einstein, great inventor, Nobel laureate and anti-war advocate, said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  Because it is difficult to comprehend the scale of displacement that climate change may cause, this demonstration helps us imagine the power of the threat of climate change through sound. I’m going to use this sound of a marble ball dropping into the metal tin to represent the number of people that are and will be displaced by climate change.  Hold up the marble ball and then drop it into the empty tin. It makes a “ping” sound. Ask them to think about and name the islands, nations, continents where people will be displaced from i.e., Kiribati, Africa, Inuit peoples. Once again drop 1 ball in the tin, restating that the peoples we just identified are represented by the sounds of the balls.   (Repetition will ensure that participants understand the analogy.)


Tell participants the total number predicted of climate refugees is represented by the sound they are about to hear. Some 200 million people in the next 40 years will be displaced by climate change. Each ball will represent 100,000 people. Ask them to close their eyes, and to remember that each ball represents 100,000 people. Gradually, pour the entire contents of the box of 2000 balls into the tin. After the last ball drops, take a moment of silence.


Speaking About Our Feelings: After a moment of silence, ask how they felt when they heard the sound of all those balls dropping: How did this demonstration make you feel?  What do you want to say about it?  Use an object such as a ball that participants can pass to one another when they have something to say. The person holding the ball is recognised as the speaker.  Participants can choose not to say anything and pass the ball on. This method assures all participants will be given the opportunity to speak if they feel moved to do so. Validate participants’ feelings by reflecting back to them what they have said and allow enough time for all participants to speak.


Many participants have reported feeling ‘angry,’ ‘sad’, and ‘numb.’ These emotional responses are perfectly healthy. You can say to participants: “If you feel angry or sad when you hear this demonstration then you can be assured that you are alive. There is blood coursing through your veins. Your heart is beating. You are a healthy human being.” When we feel angry this can often indicate a desire to see change. Anger can fuel our passion for right action. When we feel sad this is almost always an indication of our capacity for love and compassion. Remind participants that these connecting emotions such as compassion and a sense of urgency, can be motivating factors for social change.


[If time] Action Plans for a Safe and Just Climate Future!: After step three, it is time for inspiration! Ask participants to stand up, form a circle and stretch.  (The information shared in this lesson has likely caused an emotional response in participants. This step intends to help them release any tension that they might be feeling). Give participants 2 minutes to move a bit, maybe to sigh or laugh, too, to let the tension out.


Together in the circle, explain to participants that although some of the information they learned might have made them uncomfortable, it is only when we know and when we have our eyes open, that we can see the changes that we want to make in our world.  (If time) Encourage participants to share anything they know about how young people have played a role in making our world a better place. Ask participants to step into the circle to report what they know. One example: Anne Frank wrote a diary while hiding during WWII that helps us understand the incredible capacity of human beings and the depth of the human heart.


Let the circle grow in excitement and after about 5 minutes, bring everyone back together, still standing. Now, ask them to close their eyes and imagine the world free from the threat of dangerous climate change. Ask them: How would that world be built? How would the energy and tenacity of amazing young people like themselves and the ones they just heard about contribute to that world? How would they each commit to creating a safe and just climate future?  Provide time for reflection. Depending on the size of the group, let participants write their individual commitments in their notebooks, or speak them out loud, in one sentence. Find a way to end the session by acknowledging the lesson, their feelings and commitments.