Close this search box.

Climate Chaos


Set up

  1. In a large hall or outside, use chalk, string etc. to mark out on the floor:
    • a circle 60cm across to represent the earth.
    • A circle 5m across to represent the earth’s atmosphere
  2. Put the yellow/gold fabric or a hoop on the floor some distance away to represent the sun (or have one participant wear the fabric as a cloak)
  3. Explain the layout and what these elements represent, using labels written on paper or card to differentiate:
    • The Earth
    • The Sun
    • The troposphere (just inside the larger circle) – the densest part of the atmosphere, where most weather happens, which is between 5 and 9 miles thick
    • The stratosphere (just outside the larger circle) – this is the thinner part of the atmosphere, where the ozone layer is, and goes up to about 31 miles above the Earth’s surface
    • Explain that the atmosphere is much narrower compared to the Earth in real life, but we’ve made it bigger so we can play the game

Round One

  1. For round 1, ask one person to stand on the Earth (inside the circle) with the pile of red cloth strips. These represent heat energy.
    • Give two people black sashes to wear to represent CO2 molecules and get them to stand anywhere in the atmosphere (between the two circles).
  2. Give around a third of the remaining people yellow strips, and explain that they are the solar energy from the Sun.
    • They start from the Sun and have to pass through the atmosphere to get to the Earth. As (short wave) solar energy they can pass freely through the atmosphere. Explain that when they get to the Earth they swap their yellow strip for a red one (they heat the Earth’s surface and become heat energy).
    • Heat energy is long wave radiation and can therefore be trapped by the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere.
    • If that heat energy is not trapped by greenhouse gases it rises out of the troposphere and goes off into space.
  3. The people representing molecules of CO2 should try and catch people holding red strips (heat energy) before they can get to the edge of the large circle.
    • Any red strips that are caught should stay standing or sitting in the atmosphere, heating the Earth. Any that escape are dispersed into space.

Reflect and discuss

  1. Review what just happened – energy units trapped by the gases represent the amount of heat energy trapped in the atmosphere – this is what is known as the ‘greenhouse effect’ (in round 1 the greenhouse gas molecules are likely to only catch a bit of heat energy).
  2. Explain that this was how it worked for a few million years – there was a fairly steady amount of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere and it trapped enough heat to keep the earth warm enough for life to develop.
    • Ask them what the temperature of earth would be like without these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – it would be extremely cold (about 30 degrees colder than now) and life would not have developed.
  3. Then about 200 years ago, we started adding much more CO2
    • Ask them for suggestions of things that they think add CO2 or methane to the atmosphere.
    • Things that make a fairly big difference include:
      • Driving cars
      • Flying
      • Overheating inefficient buildings
      • Eating a lot of meat and dairy
      • Factories making a lot of stuff
      • Taking daily very long showers
      • Leaving high-powered electrical devices like TVs on
    • People may also suggest other things that make some difference but less than those:
      • Not recycling
      • leaving chargers plugged in

Extra Rounds

  1. Play further rounds, adding more people as additional CO2 (black sashes) and methane (blue sashes) in the atmosphere to try and trap the heat energy, to represent humans doing more of these things.
    • Explain that methane is many times more effective at trapping heat than CO2.
    • Keep adding greenhouse gas molecules and rerunning the game with new solar energy coming from the sun until there is plenty of heat trapped in the atmosphere.
  2. Explain that this is how the ‘greenhouse effect’ works and that it leads to ‘global warming’. This warming different effects on the climate around the world, which we talk about as ‘climate change’.
  3. Now ask for suggestions for things we can do
    • to reduce the CO2 that we are adding, or to remove some. Planting trees is the only thing that can actually remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but we can reduce emissions of this and other greenhouse gasses by:
      • Cycling and walking instead of driving
      • Using trains instead of cars and planes
      • Insulating homes
      • Turning off things we don’t need
      • Eating less meat and dairy
      • Using wind or solar energy instead of fossil fuels
    • Take molecules of CO2 out of the atmosphere for each of these suggestions and demonstrate how less heat gets trapped.

This activity was devised by Size of Wales, who have produced a range of materials for young people of all ages to explore climate change and sustainability.

You will need to tailor the level of detail in your explanations during this game to the age of your participants, as well as to their level of prior knowledge.

Take it further

This simulation game works well to lead into any action that you are going to take to promote any of the solutions outlined above, such as campaigning for green energy or promoting active travel in your community. Discuss what they have learned with they young people so that they can use this knowledge when they come to make their case for change.

Resources Required

Pavement chalk, string, hoops or cones to mark out the space, Large piece of yellow/gold fabric, Fabric or paper strips in different colours (e.g. red, yellow, black, blue), Paper or card for labels


Share this Activity:

Our website uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you agree to our cookie notice

Skip to content