GAMES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE

Computer and mobile application games are important potential tools for educating and training the young generation about climate and environmental change. Three special games could be developed as tools for education and social activism:

a) “Civilization Under Threat from Climate Change Game (CUT 2100 Game):
A new strategy game broadly based on a popular “Civilization” game dealing with our likely global civilization in 2100 and beyond; creating various alternatives attaining desirable or undesirable futures in the next decades;

b) Sea-level rise tracker

c) Angry Birds Environmental Game: birds coming back to politicians and industry executives who have destroyed their nesting areas; profits could go to a global sustainability fund.

Further thoughts on a) and b):

a) Civilization Under Threat Game (CUT 2100 game)

The “Civilization” game has been an extremely popular strategy game for decades. You build civilizations from some factual premises and with a lot of anticipated problems. These have always been ancient civilizations, although the game developers have now also started to look into the future. We need something similar but going beyond the original concept where young people can build world civilization alternatives for the coming decades which are really sustainable, moving from the past to the future as a game platform and using real data as a basis.

b) Sea-level rise tracker

Science:

1. There are a number of tipping points that can trigger an escalating global temperature rise and sea-level rise, as discussed in Chapter 5 of the book Crisis of Global Sustainability. The article referred to here talks about some 15 tipping points (see http://www.pnas.org/content/105/6/1786.full.pdf). These tipping points and their interaction, feedback, were not taken into account in IPCC projections in 2007 as they were considered too much of an unknown, an uncertainty (the next IPCC assessment report is only due in 2013-2014 – and as governments are involved it is always going to be a watered-down report). The IPCC and related mainstream scientific assessments expect a sea-level rise of about 0.2–1 meter within a century – so not a catastrophe.

2. James Hansen and Makiko Sato, however, tried to estimate the impact of tipping points from paleoclimate analysis in a recent essay and concluded that a much more drastic sea-level rise is likely: a 4–25 meter sea-level rise with business-as-usual trends within a century (See reference below). Cities like New York, London, Shanghai and Tokyo will be wiped out (see the discussion in Chapter 5 of Crisis of Global Sustainability). This view will most likely be contested by mainstream scientists. On the other hand, the stakes for humanity are huge if this science turns out to be correct. So even if there is only a 5% probability that the Hansen-Sato analysis is correct, this likelihood justifies the efforts to take it very seriously into account.

3. Evidently science will start modeling more and more the impact of tipping points in the years to come and a lot of data are and will be available. But with IPCC projections – on which climate change talks are based – already out of date when they are released, and even watered-down as compromises, climate change negotiations by governments are always behind the science. Therefore there is an opening and a real need for creating a democratic, transparent, on-time/real-time initiative like this Tracker.

Proposal:

Create an Interactive Sea-level Rise Tracker based on real-time data, which could be developed into a real-time application like Navigator, or a game, or both.

Tracker parameters:

1. Approaches in climate change science related to temperature rise and sea-level rise (modeling component):

a) Hansen-Sato approach/model (paleoclimate analysis in general)

b) IPCC projections/models

c) other models

2. Climate change targets and commitments by governments

CO2 and other greenhouse gas reduction commitments and targets by governments and their expected impact on global temperature are available; use e.g. http://climateinteractive.org/scoreboard as a basis

3. Actual data

Create a database using various online databases: the latest data from world monitoring sites on CO2, the rate of glaciers melting, etc.

4. Create an application

Using the application turn the above into estimates of the sea-level rise in any part of the world, with different assumptions, into a map of your locality;

Through the application high school and college students could test for themselves whether recent online monitoring data would support the Hansen-Sato analysis/hypothesis or other, more mainstream models;

Ideally, the younger generation would also use this Tracker application to follow climate change negotiations with their mobile devices like sport fans who currently watch sport events with a lot of data on players, or like stockbrokers who use Bloomberg News on their computer screens to make trade decisions. But this could go further. The younger generation could test and challenge the negotiation targets of their governments’ negotiators, in terms of sea-level rises, that various governmental negotiation positions would bring about – an exercise of grassroots democracy in action.

Please present your own comments or ideas on the above, or better yet start developing a commercial application (but devote part of your profits for sustainability causes such as a global sustainability fund – still to be established).

Some suggestions with regard to the above game ideas were presented by Alison Neale from the UK in the process of preparing the book “Crisis of Global Sustainability.” They are reproduced below as a model of what kind of comments and ideas – some tentative illustrations based on one’s own experience, some more elaborate gaming proposals – we would like to receive so that the concept could be developed further.

Comments by Alison Neale (14 August 2012):
I really like the Civilization game idea. My brothers were both totally addicted to this. I imagine there is an app already, but you could come up with something completely new that allowed people to try different solutions to environmental problems being identified. Thus you could have your domain – a village, city or county/state – and the game would tell you that an unusually large weather event is incoming. You would be able to plan to avoid it – do you use your limited pot of money to evacuate, build shelters, invest in something to prevent future events, etc? The game would be to work out what would be better in the long versus short term, including monetary, crop and human losses, and gauge reactions of all players versus actual events in history. It would be a bit like some of these research projects using Twitter at the moment, where you get to monitor people’s responses to policies and theories, and crowdsource solutions. You could even introduce the whole ‘dream team’ element of sports computer games, by having prominent environmentalists (or stereotypes of such), and form your local or state government using these, to see how well policies hold together under different theories. I know there are some very, very simple games on Facebook, such as Farmville, for example, that work along similar lines of starting with a small plot and a bit of money, and then you gradually expand. I’m not a games player, but my brothers, sister-in-law and ex-partner are all totally addicted to them, so (sigh!) I know the kind of thing that hooks people in. Oh, there are also fortress-style games, where you have to protect your maze-like base from invaders. The type of game has a particular name, which escapes me at present… That format could be easily adapted to invaders in the form of crises of different types. They are available as apps on the iPad, I know.

The sea-level rise idea is great, too, but of course does rather limit the uptake to those with access to sea. Rivers here are too well controlled to show drastic change unless there has been a dramatic amount of rain. Perhaps another app could monitor temperatures, rainfall, or proximity to average weather conditions. Or, more ‘fun’, extreme weather events: ‘spot the monsoon’, kind of thing. We had hailstones the size of golf balls in one city a few weeks ago – that is almost unheard of (the last time was apparently in the 1930s). Again, in a Twitter-esque fashion, you could have data fed in from all over the world, telling you what types of extreme weather are being experienced at any one time. With enough replication in an area, you’d be fairly certain what was true.”

References: James E. Hansen and Makitoki Sato, “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-made Climate Change,” in Climate Change: Inferences from Paleoclimate and Regional Aspects, ed. Andr Berger, Fedor Mesinger, and D. Šijački (Springer, 2012).

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