World Day of Water
||49 Practical Activities and Methods for Human
Rights Education > The web of life
The web of life
People are a part of the environment - not
apart from it.
General human rights
||In this activity, people brainstorm links in a global food
web. They explore:
- The interdependency of living and non-living things
- The inevitable impact of all human activity on the
environment, and the consequences.
- The right to own property
- The right to a healthy environment
- The right to development
- To know about the interdependency of living and non-living
- To appreciate the implications of human activity on
- To develop respect for the intrinsic value of life
- A ball of thin string or strong wool
- A pair of scissors
This activity is divided into 2 parts: 1 - building the web of
life, part 2 - its destruction.
- Ask people to stand in a circle.
- Explain that they are to build a model of the web of life.
- You start. Hold the ball of string in your hand and name
a green plant, for instance a cabbage.
- Hold onto the end of the string and throw the ball to someone
across the circle. They catch it! There is now a straight line
of string between the two of you.
- This person has to name an animal that eats cabbages, for
instance, a caterpillar. They then hold onto the string and
throw the ball to a third person across the circle.
- This third person has to think of an animal that eats caterpillars,
for instance, a bird, or if they know one, they can say a species
of bird, such as a thrush. They then throw the ball to a fourth
- Continue the game, so the ball of string passes back and
forth across the circle until you have created a criss-cross
mesh that represents the "web of life".
- Take the scissors and ask people to give specific examples
of what is damaging this web of life, for instance, motorways
being built over farmland, or over-fishing of cod.
- For each example make one cut in the string web.
Debriefing and evaluation
Start with asking how people feel seeing the web destroyed and
then go on to talk about the issues involved and what needs to
be done to protect the environment
- What did you feel as you saw the web gradually being destroyed?
- Was it easy to name animals and plants in different food
webs? How good is people's knowledge of natural history?
- Whose responsibility is it to protect the environment?
- The balance of nature is very complex and it is not easy
to predict what the global consequences of ay particular action
will be. How then is it possible to make decisions about how
we use the earth's resources? For example, how can people make
decisions about whether to cut down a forest so the land can
be used for growing crops?
- Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural rights states that "all peoples may, for their
own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources."
Does this mean that people have a right to use the environment?
- We rely on our environment to provide us with food to eat
and clean air to breathe.Without a healthy environment we could
not live, it is a condition for life. Do we therefore have a
paramount duty to respect the environment that limits our rights
to use it? (In the same way that we have a duty to respect rights
and freedoms of others, which limits our own rights as individuals.)
End with a short brainstorm of environmental success stories.
It is not all hopeless! There are lots of people active all over
the world, working to ensure that a sustainable environment is
held in trust for future generations.
Tips for facilitators
Each food chain should illustrate actual or possible relationships.
For example, grass - sheep - humans. Or plankton - whales. Or
plankton - herrings - pigs (pigs are often fed fishmeal) - humans
- tiger! Remember that when an animal dies, bacteria decay its
body and the minerals released are taken up by other green plants.
Thus the cycle of life begins over again. Billions of such cycles
interlink to make the web of life.
Try to get people to think of as many different food chains
as possible. Think about examples in woodland, forest, mountain,
moorland, marsh, pond, river and marine habitats. You may need
to intervene by saying something like, now the minerals get washed
to the sea and get used by marine phytoplankton (plant plankton)."
Or to move from a marine ecosystem to a terrestrial one you may
have to say, now the seagull that ate the shore crab flew inland
to scavenge over farmland where it died". If a player can
not think of the next link, suggest they may ask others in the
group for suggestions.
In part 2, when you cut the string, make cuts at random in different
parts of the web. The first few cuts will not make much difference
because of the way the threads criss-cross over each other hold
the web more or less together. However, as you make more cuts
the web will gradually disintegrate and eventually you will be
left with a heap of threads lying on the floor surrounded by a
circle of people each holding a small, useless strand.
In part 2 of the activity you will have to be prepared for some
controversial answers to the question "what is damaging the
web?" Some people, for instance, vegetarians, may say that
people eating meat damages the web. You should acknowledge the
point of view and ask the other players for their opinion. However,
be careful not enter a big debate at this stage; finish the game
first and then return to it at the end in the debriefing and discussion.
Try not to get bogged down in the discussion, but keep the aim
of the activity, that the effect of human activity on the environment,
The destroyed web is a very powerful image. It is therefore
essential that you leave time to follow on with at least a short
brainstorm or discussion about the progress that is currently
being made to protect the environment. You should also add points
about what else can be done, including what they can do. The global
situation is indeed depressing, but it is important that people
do not feel helpless in the face of the task ahead.
You may want to read the background
information before asking the questions about the relationship
between human rights and the environment.
This is a good activity to do with a science class.
Suggestions for follow-up
This activity can be used as a starter for
a debate about human rights and environment. For example, would
it be a good idea if there were a human right to the environment,
like there are other human rights? Does the environment have value
over and above its instrumental value? Does it make sense to give
Developing the sustainable use of resources requires political
will, time, effort and money. Think how much more all countries
could do by way of environmental education, scientific research
and practical environmental protection schemes if they did not
spend so much on armaments and the military. If the group would
like to explore those issues further, they could do the activity
"Money to spend".
The group may like to explore what happens when environmental
disaster strikes and famine comes so that people have to move
from their land. The activity, "The
world turned upside down", (C/23, Alien 93) addresses
discrimination and promotes empathy with displaced persons.
Alternatively, the group may like to look at the web of family
relationships across the globe. The activity, "Tree
of life" in the all different all equal education pack
asks, "Where do we come from?" and looks at issues of
personal and national identity.
Ideas for action
Get involved with local environmental projects. Contact Youth
and Environment Europe (YEE). YEE is the umbrella organisation
for over forty regional and national self-governing youth organisations
involved in the study and conservation of nature and environment
throughout Europe. www.ecn.cz/yee/.
Contact an local environmental organisation and ask to find
out more about how to be an environmentally friendly consumer.
In nature everything is connected to everything else. All living
things and non-living things are linked through cycles, for example,
the carbon cycle and the water cycle. Food chains are part of
these cycles. A food chain starts when a green plant uses light
energy from sunshine, minerals in the soil and water to build
their own food to give them energy to live and to grow. When a
green plant, for instance, a cabbage gets eaten, the minerals
and energy stored in the leaves are passed on and used, for instance,
by the caterpillar to live and grow. As each animal in turn is
eaten by another the energy and minerals get passed on through
the food chain. When the animal at the top of the food chain dies,
its body decays as it is "eaten" by bacteria. The minerals
that were in the body are taken up by green plants and a new food