Its only a game but even earth scientists struggle to defeat global

first_img“Welcome, delegates,” the U. N. official boomed to the international negotiators gathered to find a way to prevent catastrophic global warming. The delegates whispered and scribbled on pie charts as she spoke. One popped open an orange cream soda.“What is the planet,” the woman concluded, “that you will leave to our collective future?”It’s a question those in the room contemplate daily. But on this day, they knew the burden of decision didn’t really rest on their shoulders—because neither the U.N. official nor the negotiation was real. It was World Climate, a game that simulates international climate negotiations. The U.N. official was biogeochemist Juliette Rooney-Varga, director of the Climate Change Initiative at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. And she addressed not diplomats, but earth scientists, gathered late last year in San Francisco for a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).The game, created in 2010 by the nonprofit Climate Interactive and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology System Dynamics Group, is to U.N. climate negotiations what Model UN is to the real thing: a chance for outsiders to get a glimpse of what it takes to hammer out a consensus on a thorny international issue. And the players’ collective goal is straightforward: Commit enough resources to prevent dangerous global warming by the year 2100. The benchmark is to prevent Earth from warming more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, or about 1.2°C. higher than today—the same as the goal set by the United Nations’ climate agency.Game onThat the participants weren’t policymakers, dealing in real human lives with real money, should have made the exercise easier. But, like the corporate executives and high school students who have played the game in the past, even a few dozen climate researchers, grad students, and teachers had difficulty grappling with the choices required to manage human-induced climate change.As in real-life climate talks, delegates had a menu of options for setting country-specific commitments for the good of the globe. They could pledge to reduce carbon emissions, reforest, or contribute to a global climate fund. They broke off into team huddles, deploying delegates to negotiate with other regions, and presented their pledges to the room. And they had only 3 hours to reach the U.N. target.The simulation “is a huge oversimplification,” Rooney-Varga says. “But there are some analogies.”Unlike at U.N. meetings, World Climate players have access to a real-time climate model. Thanks to C-ROADS, a Climate Interactive model that graphs temperature change based on carbon emissions and other variables, participants can see the projected consequences of their pledges with the click of a mouse.No easy way outEven with the help of C-ROADS, however, the scientists at AGU never reached their 2° target. After the first huddle, the forecast by 2100 was 4° of warming—only marginally lower than the business-as-usual scenarios in which societies do nothing to change the current course of emissions. A few hours later, they had shaved the increase down to 2.5°—still half a degree too high.“I think we’re too much scientists,” joked one participant. But the problem wasn’t a lack of negotiating skills; it was simply that the steps required to change our climate future are difficult.According to C-ROADS, the biggest carbon emitters—China, the United States, and India—would need to begin decreasing emissions within the next 15 years and then continue bringing them down steadily. Around the same time, every country in the world would need to stop demolishing forests and plant new trees as quickly as possible.Alex de Sherbinin, a geographer with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network in Palisades, New York, had an idea: “What if we tell people to stop breathing?”Snack food diplomacyUnderstanding the extremes of climate change is only one objective of World Climate. The other is experiential. “What was exciting about bringing this to AGU was an opportunity for the scientists to experience the social dynamics” of diplomacy, said Rooney-Varga, who has moderated the game dozens of times around the globe. “That’s something where scientists have just as much to learn as politicians.”The scientists learned quickly—particularly that negotiating involves more than money and promises. When U.S. delegate de Sherbinin bribed a league of developing nations with soda in exchange for fast-tracking emissions reductions, the other delegate, University of California, Berkeley, atmospheric chemistry graduate student Lauren Garofalo, accepted the goodies. But Garofalo also demanded that the United States begin decreasing its emissions by 2020. De Sherbinin balked. “It would cause an economic Armageddon for our country,” he said. “How can we do that?”U.S. inaction, Garofalo responded, would “cause a real Armageddon for our countries.”And just like that, the conversation could flip-flop from playful to poignant. Delegates from island nations paid neighbors veggies and dip to someday welcome refugees displaced by rising seas. And when developing countries asked for money, the United States offered birth control—and cookies.“We would like to thank the U.S. for … that effort of good will,” Garofalo declared during a pledge, “but we do expect more than cookies in the future.”Better than most, environmental scientists understand the potential consequences of a changing climate. But here, without the world watching, laughing became the easiest way to cope with the worst-case scenario.It’s complicatedWhat does it mean when even environmental scientists can’t step up enough to set back climate change? After the game, Rooney-Varga gathered the group to debrief.“I’m crapping my pants,” said Lev Horodyskyj, an astrobiologist at Arizona State University, Tempe. “It wasn’t obvious until we did this exercise just how strong the change needs to be and I don’t think anyone on the planet has the political will to do it.”To others, fear was tempered by optimism about the shared experience.“The joy was that … everyone was trying to get to a goal,” said Elena Sparrow, a microbiologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. “People were really willing to try to make the changes that were needed.”Colorado educator Mike Zawaski hoped games like this can galvanize the United States and other powerful countries to act. “Wouldn’t it be better to just be a leader in the beginning?” he asked. “It seems like we could leverage so much on this national pride idea.”In the end, the goal of the game is not to terrify, but to inspire, organizers said. Mitigating climate change is an enormous task, but it’s not impossible; and it won’t be resolved without teamwork. “The key insights are that you need everybody to act,” Rooney-Varga said. “It’s all in.” Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Click to view the privacy policy. 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