A Play Designer’s Manifesto


A recent report on the speed and scope of the onset of climate change just gave us a gut punch. Eoin Higgins wrote in Common Dreams,  ‘Existential’ Risk of Climate Crisis Could Lead to Civilizational Collapse by 2050,

“The world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change.

Even by the standards of the dire predictions given in climate studies, this one’s extreme: civilization itself could be past the point of no return by 2050. 

That’s the conclusion from Australian climate think tank Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, which released a report (pdf) May 30 claiming that unless humanity takes drastic and immediate action to stop the climate crisis, a combination of food production instability, water shortages, and extreme weather could result in a complete societal breakdown worldwide.” 

A child born today will, over their preschool years, learn about all the wonderful animals on this planet. All too soon; however, she will begin to learn of their existential peril. Unfortunately, the bad news will only continue to get worse. This is unprecedented and deeply concerning.


In a recent article in The Nation, Parenting in a World Hurtling Toward Catastrophe, Frida Berrigan wrote:

I’m almost 45. My kids, Seamus and Madeline, are 5 and 6; my stepdaughter Rosena is 12. They are part of what journalist Mark Hertsgaard calls Generation Hot, “some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its mounting impacts.”

The phycological impacts of this reality are profound and pervasive. One of the primary responses to climate change is grief. Already we see programs to address this issue spring up around the globe. Avichai Scher reported to NMC new on Climate Grief: The growing emotional toll of climate change.

Young children do not have the emotional development to grieve. How then are they to deal with this tsunami of pain?

I believe that the most effective strategy going forward is to begin immediately to surround children to the greatest extent possible with what we know are the changes that must happen if we are to blunt the impact of climate change. Preschools must become uber-green, solar powered, minimalistic examples of the way all of us will be living a decade from now.

This means my practice as a designer must change drastically. I cannot substitute Robina wood for powder coated steel but must go all the way to bamboo. I cannot use redwood for garden boxes but must use hempcrete. I’ll have to abandon all polyethylene and hope that algae-based plastics are good enough. I will need to find ways to support teachers conducting climate action projects such as a way to use single-use plastic in the play environment, so children learn about “upcycling.”

The idea here is simple. When children grow up living in a world full of solutions then when they ultimately do discover the extent of the crisis to the planet, they will be less likely to despair and much more likely to grab what they know can make a difference and see to it that those solutions become ubiquitous.

This is not only good for the children, but such a design manifesto will be a very effective agent of change. In the May issue of Scientific America, an article: Children Change Their Parents’ Minds about Climate Change reviewed a study that showed that when children learn about climate issues, they are powerful agents of change.

The results suggest that conversations between generations may be an effective starting point in combating the effects of a warming environment. “This model of intergenerational learning provides a dual benefit,” says graduate student Danielle Lawson, the paper’s lead author. “[It prepares] kids for the future since they’re going to deal with the brunt of climate change’s impact. And it empowers them to help make a difference on the issue now by providing them a structure to have conversations with older generations to bring us together to work on climate change.”






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