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Jason Reed, Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies

Jason Reed, Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies

In late 2017, at a conference in Bonn, Germany, Jason Reed and a few of his Purdue University colleagues convinced government officials to play a game.

If you are wondering why on Earth people from Purdue would do such a thing, Earth is exactly why they did.

Here’s some context… The conference was the Bonn Climate Change Conference, a midyear working meeting between the UN Climate Change conferences, the “foremost global forums for multilateral discussion of climate change matters”; the government officials were climate negotiation delegates; and the video game, “Earth Remembers” is a unique teaching and learning tool developed within a research project that explores “the relationship between global temperature targets, a hot topic in the recent Paris Agreement, and global climate tipping points….”

Reed, an assistant professor and a health sciences information specialist in Purdue Libraries and School of Information Studies, is among the members of the Purdue University faculty working on this project, “Climate Tipping Points: Gaming Climate Futures,” led by principal investigator Assistant Professor of Political Science Manjana Milkoreit.

Along with three other funded projects, the project is part of Purdue’s “Breaking Through: Developing Multidisciplinary Solutions to Global Grand Challenges” internal grant opportunity, a three-year program that “enables multidisciplinary teams to tackle grand challenges in new ways. Supported through funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the program also “embeds policy experts, publishing professionals, and Libraries faculty in the scholarly research and communication process, in order to provide researchers with expert assistance in communicating results directly to the public and key stakeholders.” (See www.purdue.edu/breaking-through/ for more information.)

Reed has been part of “Climate Tipping Points: Gaming Climate Futures” since a few short months after he arrived at Purdue in late 2016. The “Breaking Through” program began in August that year and will continue to fund the four projects through May 2019.

“We spent the first year collecting data, because the first thing we needed to know is what climate negotiators know about climate tipping points. We’re working on a paper right now to present the results of that project,” Reed noted.

The Highest Stakes

Through the project, Purdue and external researchers at Utrecht University and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) commissioned GCU undergraduate-student game developers to create “Earth Remembers.” At the Bonn Climate Change Conference, “Gaming Climate Futures” team members were able to engage a few climate negotiation delegates to play the game. Other officials, including non-government organization (NGO) officials, as well as a group of students, played “Earth Remembers,” too.

“In the game, the players take on roles to represent different countries. As the representative of a specific nation, the player will make funding decisions for that country, so the player considers how much to allocate for non-environmental-related projects, such as infrastructure, healthcare, defense—all the things governments have to fund. Then, in the game, the players allocate money toward mitigation and adaptation for climate change, as well as money toward a net energy technology. If it is real climate negotiation delegates playing the game, we ask them to represent another country besides their own. That way, they can see the results of their decisions from the perspective of another nation,” Reed explained. “They are allotted 10-15 minutes to talk within their alliances, which are based on real-world alliances. For example, a player can discuss funding allocation ideas with other country representatives in the same alliance. They can also talk with representatives from countries in other alliances. This provides the opportunity for countries that do not have a lot of money to have input with nations with more financial resources; they can advocate for their larger-nation counterparts to pledge more funds to help the environment.”

Once the players lock in their allocation decisions, the game takes the players to a screen that represents what the world will look like in five years.

“The game will show where we, as humans, are on the path to the outlined global temperature targets, which call for humans to limit the global average temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees above that of the pre-industrial age,” Reed added. “With those results, based on the percentage chance of a tipping point occurring (which is based on the temperature), we assess whether or not we have come closer to—or even surpassed—a climate tipping point. In the situation (within the game) that we have surpassed at a tipping point, we will then discuss the real-world effects.

Reed noted the game can simulate what could happen, based on sustaining the global temperature target (or surpassing the target range), as far as 50 years into the future.

He points to the world’s threatened coral reefs as an often-discussed example of negative outcomes resulting from nearing or surpassing climate tipping points. The disappearance of these extremely biodiverse ecosystems will have economic, social, and health consequences, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/coral-reefs-and-climate-change).

The “Gaming Climate Change” researchers have plans to continue to tweak and improve the “Earth Remembers” game, as well as recruit even more climate negotiation delegates to play it at upcoming climate change conferences and events. They are still working through their plans to seek funding to extend the research project, as well as how to further develop the game for possible use by educators in high school and college-level classrooms.