Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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3 May 2007

Communicating Peak Oil to Teenagers – any ideas?

Transition Town Totnes is developing a project called ‘Transition Tales’ which is seeking to involve young people in exploring how the Transition process might be for the town, as well as to raise their awareness about peak oil and climate change. One of the great things about **Transition Culture** is all the wonderful readers out there bristling with ideas. I want to throw this out to you. Do you have any thoughts for exercises, games, demonstrations that could make an understanding of peak oil accessible to teenagers?

We are putting together a set of tools for doing this, ways of making the energy contained in a litre of oil visible, really allowing them to see what an extraordinarily energy dense material it is and how dependent on it we are. One idea is to take in a suitcase containing lots of things and asking them what they think they have in common, the answer being that they are all made of oil. Please post your comments, thoughts and activities here. I will report back what we did in the end in case it is useful for the work that you do. Thanks for your input and creativity.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


3 May 11:40am

The two videos by Randy White of Lawns to Gardens would appeal to the teenage crowd. I like them because he seems like such an unlikely sourec of peak oil information.

You can view them on his blog (and probably on Youtube too):

3 May 2:04pm

Kids have different motivations, but one think I’d float is that you can have ‘all the cool stuff’ if you are clever about it. The energy impact of an iPod with 1000 songs is trivial compared to a car that gets a couple less MPG.

And, do the math, at X thousand miles per year, and $3/gal, how many songs is that?

IOW, make your ‘stuff’ a match for the times.

3 May 4:00pm

Make a board game similar but different to Monopoly, with Transition Towns instead of streets, nuclear power stations instead of hotels and renewable power stations and oil wells instead of houses. Every time someone passes Go, each player rolls a dice, and the lowest roller is told that one of their oil wells has run dry and they lose it. The cards on the board can contain events such as Hurricane in the Gulf, Terrorists attack pipeline, Wind generators get more efficient: collect a Totnes pound etc. Just don’t commercialise it without a copyright lawyer to tell you how to make it different enough from real monopoly!

Alice Quayle
3 May 5:17pm

Myself and 2 friends did a pretty well received thing at the local school last year. Got a laminated world map and some dry wipe pens, and we asked groups of about 15 12 year olds what they had for breakfast (some of this a bit funny). Then we worked out what basic foods were in it where it came from and drew it on the map. did green for localish and red for long distance. lots of long red lines.. got some interesting discussions eg what about the people who sell sugar in the caribbean and need the cash?
tied it in with some spiel about how we are ‘eating oil’.

3 May 6:44pm

It is a distraction to even consider the issue as one of trying to communicate with teenagers. Are they going to solve the problem? Let’s get back to a much more important issue – when are we going to get our political leaders to take the issue seriously? Is there really any possibility of a solution or even a partial solution? And if so are we prepared to pay the costs? And what are you going to do if there are no solutions?

3 May 9:46pm

I think gimmicks are a bit of a red herring. Teenagers don’t need games or special exercises to make them interested. I think enough of them will listen if you make the issue personal and important. They’re more likely to respond if you treat them as adults rather than children.

There is a certain amount of value in the shock factor – the way that an issue like peak oil has a certain ‘alternativeness’ about it. It upsets the values of the world, changes the way we see things. Framed in a personal ‘we’re-all-in-it-together’ way rather than as a sermon, this alternate reality is appealing in itself, without the need for activities and distractions.

3 May 10:44pm

Response to John Lee’s post:
Yesterday my six year old son told me ‘Say no to plastic bags dad!’. I looked in his school bag and there was a collage of a turtle he had done at school with the same message at the foot of the paper. The point is that kids absorb stuff. We all did as kids, and that’s part of the reason we use oil like there’s no tomorrow – we were brought up to it. It’s possible that old ideas don’t get changed, rather that the people who believe in them get old and die so the younger people with different ideas can take over. Kuhn’s concept of a ‘paradigm shift’ may really depend on generational change. Its hard to ‘get our political leaders to take the issue seriously’ because when they were kids it just wasn’t an issue and so they can’t bring themselves to believe it ever could be. Many of them are far too set in their ways to change. Just look at John Howard in Australia (doesn’t stop me trying, though). There’s much more hope with children and teenagers. ‘Are they going to solve the problem?’ Well, yes, actually.

4 May 5:34pm

To ROG: I am so pleased that your son is conversant with our ecological and biological problems, but somehow I don’t quite imagine that he will propose any viable solutions within our short time frame or have the political clout to bring them to fruition. But then again you know your son better than I.

Jason Cole
7 May 11:34pm

I think you need at least 3 different exercises to demonstrate:

1) How useful (fossil) energy is
3) Something to demonstrate that fossil fuels “run down” instead of “run out”

Possible “activities”….

1) Get them to push a car / push a bike / row a boat? Use a pedal generator – feel how hard it is to power a 100W light bulb?

2) Connect a motor to a dynamo – see how long the “perpetual motion” device runs for?

3) Get them to drink orange juice from a glass that is half full of ice cubes. Get them to notice how easy it is to extract the juice at the top, but then how difficult it is to suck it out from the ice cubes at the bottom, and how the flow is much less.