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Game predicts worrisome climate change

Discussions about whether the temperature of the earth will increase in the coming decades sparks debate among many segments of the population. No matter where one stands on the issue, a couple things are sure: humans will consume energy to survive and there will be consequences of that energy consumption.

Scientists and engineers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California have devised a computer game that produces various climate change scenarios based on the energy inputs of the player. Beginning with the current decade, the game asks players to select what type and how much of each energy source to use. Players can then choose to buy fossil fuels, wind, solar, nuclear and others to meet the simulated energy demands of the world's population. Players only have a limited amount of money to spend with each turn and a limited amount of time. Some fuels, like coal, are far less expensive than others, like solar. There is also a step where players spin a wheel to add another layer of unpredictability, such as an economic factor or natural disaster that will impact the outcome either in a good or bad way. Fuel needs for the planet vary between each 20-year increment.

After the player makes her decisions, the game shows the player how her choices impact the overall temperature of the earth and other possible effects on the environment. I played the game this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC. By the year 2100, I successfully raised the temperature of the earth by nearly 4 degrees Celsius and subsequently destroyed most of the coral reefs!

Despite my scary outcomes, I took away the lesson that the game designers are trying to drive home: that balancing the energy needs of the planet is a tricky risk/benefit proposition and that our actions do not come with out consequences. Kwei-Yu Chu, the exhibitor from LLNL who demonstrated the game to me, says an online version will be available soon at the laboratory’s website. When it becomes available, try it out and see if you can meet the world’s energy needs and still spare the planet from destruction. I am sure you will do better than I did!

The game is now available online. Try it for yourself here.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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