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Littoral et vie Research team, Université de Moncton

Beth McLaughlin, Diane Pruneau, André Doyon, Joanne Langis, Liette Vasseur, Eileen Ouellet, Gilles Martin and Gaston Boudreau


































































Sponsors of the Mutant's Circle project:
Climate Change Action Fund (Environment Canada), New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund, Université de Moncton.

Campbell, J. (1978). Les héros sont éternels. Paris: Robert Laffont.


The Mutants' Circle - 
what the heck is that?

by the Research team Littoral et vie,
Université de Moncton
avril 2003

The Mutants' Circle is a professional development program for teachers on climate change education. 

(photo: Mutants' Circle)

This course was created to appeal to the whole person, the head and the heart, by using metaphors, symbols, and ritual to create community. In addition, by cultivating an attachment to place, we hoped to bring the participants to change their behaviour, to reduce their impact on the climate, thereby becoming mutants. Be a Hero and Help your Students Become Heroes became the call of the course.

The goal, apart from creating and offering a course for teachers on climate change education, was to research what motivates people to change their behaviour to live more lightly on the planet. So, based on environmental education theory--one key being that having a relationship with the earth is what fosters stewardship--environmental education techniques which help create a bond with nature were incorporated in the course.
A tale, The First Mutants' Circle, and environmental values activities were also included. The Mutants' Circle began its life. Today, there are approximately 372 mutants in Atlantic Canada and the number is increasing. The highlights of the course are described below but the real highlight is to witness the changes, the engagement of the people to commit to performing one or more actions to reduce their ecological impact on the climate. Behaviour change to deal with climate change has to be the ultimate goal of a successful course.

The head - ideas

Through discussion, using maps and exchanging experiences, the participants identified the local causes of climate change (fossil fuel use, agricultural practices, burial of solid wastes, deforestation, etc.). People came to recognize signs of climate change around them (frequency and intensity of storms, rising sea levels, melting of the polar caps and increased average global temperature) and impacts or consequences of these signs (soil erosion, coastal erosion, lower river levels, health impacts, etc) in their region.

The heart - environmental values

Getting teachers to articulate their environmental values can be a tricky business, until you add a little fun. We use an activity called the continuum where two people stand at either end of a long line. Two participants read aloud a half-page description of their life: Marilyn MasterKey, at one end, and Oscar Opportunity at the other end. Marilyn is a jet-setting spendthrift, who likes to eat expensive imported foods, disdaining the 'common' around her, while Oscar is a pinchpenny at the other extreme, allowing his family one shower a week. Participants were called upon to first, place themselves on the continuum, then explain why they placed themselves where they did: what they did or didn't do to help the environment.

(photo: Mutants' Circle)

The heart - activities to cultivate a relationship with the Earth

What better way to encourage a bond with the earth than to spend time outdoors! First, we introduced existing ecological monitoring activities like NatureWatch and its variety of programs: PlantWatch, IceWatch, FrogWatch, WormWatch. (see We brought along our little PlantWatch booklets and went outdoors in search of the bunchberry (our Mutants' tale theme plant) and tried to identify at least a few species. It took us time to see the first one…

While outside, we introduced the solo. Each teacher was given a protective cushion (a garbage bag!) and was asked to look around and find a spot in the woods which appealed to him/her. The teachers were encouraged to sit comfortably for 15 minutes, to observe the surroundings by using one or more senses and to pay attention to everything that happened. We shared our experience in the circle. The richness of that experience was astounding.

Head and heart - social influences

A list of actions of environmentally responsible behaviours was circulated to the participants. Sitting in a circle, the facilitators read The First Mutants' Circle, then invited the participants to become members of the Mutants' Circle. Each person chose a behaviour which he/she would try and shared with the group which behaviour was chosen and the reason for this choice. People often talked about behaviour that they were already doing. In this way, we worked at creating community-establishing confidence and an ambiance for exchange in which a project (of change) could germinate.

(photo: Mutants' Circle)

Mutants, one and all

Did the teachers become mutants? Indeed, many participants decided to turn down the heat, turn off the lights, the television and the computer. Others chose to fill a glass of water to brush their teeth, to reduce their use of paper towels or to walk more. Some chose to make more effort to compost and others now bring their lunch in reusable containers. They tell us that taking little steps leads to more action.

The heroes' voyage

Our heroes have encountered obstacles: lack of time, lack of support from the people around them, fatigue and others. Their allies, however, are their fellow members of the Mutants' Circle, which forms a community. Other surprising allies are the hero's ability to plan ahead, hearing about the actions of their fellow mutants, their spoken commitment to do something, and wanting to be a model for students or family.

(photo: Mutants' Circle)

Our website has a comprehensive presentation which can be downloaded: see (click on Teachers, then Climate Change).