Climate Game Gives Real Options to Save World A game developed by Princeton University professors gives students and executives alike a chance to develop strategies to keep carbon emissions flat. And there's no "get out of jail free" card; players must use already existing technologies.
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Climate Game Gives Real Options to Save World

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Climate Game Gives Real Options to Save World

Climate Game Gives Real Options to Save World

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NPR's Nell Boyce went to Toronto to watch some business executives give it a try.

NELL BOYCE: This game isn't like Monopoly or Scrabble. There's no fake money or cards you can swap. It's more like a thought experiment. Pretend you are a policy maker. I know that doesn't sound very exciting, but bear with me. Your job is to save the world by keeping carbon emissions flat over the next 50 years.

ROBERTA HOTINSKI: What we're saying is, we need to get started now. It's certainly a lot easier job if we start now than waiting 50 years. Because we're...

BOYCE: Roberta Hotinski is standing at the front of a classroom full of people, mostly business people, at York University.

HOTINSKI: And so how do we even get our hands on this problem of what do we need to do?

BOYCE: You have to get rid of these wedges. And to do that, you have options - 15 of today's technologies like fuel-efficient cars or nuclear power. Of course, to get rid of just one wedge, you have to scale a technology up, big time. Hotinski says take fuel-efficient cars.

HOTINSKI: If we doubled the fuel efficiency of all the world's cars projected 50 years from now, that would be one wedge. So that's a really big undertaking, all the cars in the world, doubling their projected fuel efficiency.

BOYCE: Say you like nuclear power. To get one single wedge with nuclear, you would have to convince the world to make three times the nuclear power we have today. And to get a single wedge by growing crops for biofuels...

HOTINSKI: Using current practices, this would take an area the size of India to grow enough biofuels.

BOYCE: So grab a few strangers and see if you and your teammates can agree on some combination of seven technologies. Because remember, you need to cut seven wedges to keep carbon emissions flat.

HOTINSKI: And no one technology can do the whole job.

BOYCE: Hotinski gives everyone an hour to decide the fate of the world and breaks them into three groups.

HOTINSKI: You five and then one, two, three, four...

BOYCE: Everyone seems somewhat stunned by what they've just heard, even though these folks mostly work for energy firms and environmental consulting groups. One player named Scott Grant sums up the general feeling:

SCOTT GRANT: Each of these wedges really are huge, absolutely huge. And the chances of us doing any one of them is small unless we make huge changes.

BOYCE: Still, everyone starts debating. Some of the technologies are a real turn-off for players like Ruth Kelly.

RUTH KELLY: Nuclear, I think, is really a bad choice, because this affects our children, our great grandchildren. They're left with a horrible mess.

BOYCE: But her teammates overrule her concerns. It's the only group to go for nuclear energy. Other strategies are far more popular - almost everyone thinks like a player named Gale Tedhams.

GALE TEDHAMS: Can I make a suggestion - that we think about efficiency overall. Whether it's transportation, buildings, whatever industry.

BOYCE: Two teams want to drastically cut how much people drive through things like better public transportation. But some people like Dean Howertson(ph) say that's just not realistic.

DEAN HOWERTSON: This thing really requires a sea change in terms of how people conduct their lives, and I'm not sure that people are going to get there.

BOYCE: Of course, every technology at such a big scale would mean big changes. One business consultant named Bryan Smith says...

BRYAN SMITH: I really feel it's a wake-up call. When you look at what needs to be done, we're all stumbling around asleep, wasting energy, doing things that aren't sustainable. So this is a wake-up call and it's positive in terms of options that we can get behind.

BOYCE: And the options this groups chose are pretty much the ones that Roberta Hotinski sees all the time. She works for a group called the Carbon Mitigation Initiative and travels around to promote the game.

HOTINSKI: We've done it with Princeton researchers and schoolteachers and high school kids, and they turned out to be remarkably similar. It really isn't that different from group to group.

BOYCE: Nell Boyce, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: Take a lesson in playing the climate game at And you can learn more about climate change in the latest issue of National Geographic magazine.

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