• U.S.

Environment: The Real Thing

3 minute read

The fourth-graders at Gaines Road Elementary School in Athens, Ga., cluster before a brightly colored 30-by-45-in. game board. It depicts a small city complete with houses, stores and factories all encircled by forests, ponds, a marsh and a river. The teacher proposes that an airport be built over the marsh and a marina along the river. Both projects are quickly voted down by the youngsters —for sound ecological reasons.

“Make Your Own World” is a delightful teaching aid that Coca-Cola includes in its new ecology kit, a promotional giveaway for school boards. To date, Coke bottlers have distributed 4,000 kits nationwide, and every teacher who has seen it wants one.

The Deer Vote. Coke got expert help in developing the kit from the University of Georgia’s Institute of Ecology. “We wanted the kids to realize that the world is not infinite and that its resources are limited,” says Dr. Frank B. Golley, executive director of the institute. “We wanted them to devise a strategy to live within those limits.”

Basic concepts are taught in a classroom brainstorming session called “Rescue in Space.” The schoolchildren divide into two groups: eight astronauts going to Mars in two spaceships, plus ground-control crews responsible for the ships’ air, water, food and living space. Once on Mars, one spacecraft breaks down. Given certain limitations, which the teacher reads from the kit’s list, the challenge is to create and debate practical ways of bringing all the astronauts safely back in the closed ecological system of a single cramped spaceship.

The kids then graduate to “Make Your Own World.” Eleven teams with an equal vote represent farmers, jobless workers and real estate developers as well as such usually disenfranchised interests as air, forests, soil—even deer. Playing the role of master planner, the teacher affixes overlay pictures of various new projects to the magnetic game board. She reads from a card describing each project’s environmental consequences—the good and the bad. An industrial park, for example, brings 1) economic prosperity, 2) a larger population that will need additional space-consuming highways, and 3) air pollution. The kids then decide what to do by discussions ending in a democratic vote. As new projects cover the board, the children can see the ecological wisdom—or folly—of their decisions.

“There are no winners or losers,” says Lassor Blumenthal, a freelance writer who worked on the kit. “The players are all in the same boat.” What the discussion basically teaches is the art of making value choices, deer v. developers, for example. Ecologist Golley calls such choices “the strategy of remittance.” As Coke’s own slogan puts it, the game re-creates “the real thing.”

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