The solution to the climate crisis is maddeningly simple: Countries must stop burning fossil fuels and destroying the earth’s ecosystems. Yet it remains out of reach because of ongoing obstruction by powerful companies and complicit political leaders. 

What would happen if you could cut through this quagmire and instigate the economic transformations needed to avert climate catastrophe?

Well, now’s your chance to find out. The Financial Times recently developed The Climate Game, in partnership with Infosys, which puts you in the driver’s seat of global climate action.  

“After another wave of extreme weather, world leaders want to get serious about climate change,” the game’s introduction says. “They appoint you the global minister for future generations to make the decisions squabbling nations have dodged for decades.”

From here, you have a budget of 100 “effort points” that you can spend on a range of climate actions. If you make savvy decisions, you earn more effort points; if you bungle your opportunities, you lose points. As the game progresses, heat waves and extreme weather events put extra pressure on you to make the right choices. 

The goal of the game is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which is what the Paris climate agreement designated as the first threshold to be avoided to minimize environmental impacts. 

“The game focuses on electricity, transport, buildings, and industry — the four sectors responsible for the biggest energy-related carbon dioxide emissions,” FT explains. “Players must also deal with other greenhouse gasses, and protect people and nature, for the planet to remain habitable. 

“When each player reaches the year 2050 they will receive a bespoke temperature projection for the year 2100 — an accurate reflection of the decisions they have made,” the FT notes.

Screenshot from the Climate Game
Image: The Financial Times

Released in April for Earth Day, the game is a delightful, insightful, and sobering romp through the latest climate science, as informed by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Sometimes you’ll have to choose between arcane actions, and other times your effort points will be too constrained to make the most ambitious decisions. The road to victory dwindles the deeper you get, but if you fail to achieve the desired outcome, you can always try again. 

Global Citizen spoke with Alexandra Heal, a visual storytelling reporter at FT who helped lead on the Climate Game project, about some of the decisions that went into the game and her hopes for its impact.

Global Citizen: What has the response to the game been like so far?

Alexandra Heal: It’s been pretty amazing actually. It seems to be so popular — it’s been the best read story that the FT has published during that period, and it has a very long tail so people are still coming back to it. It’s drawing new readers and players, and we hope it will continue to be the case.

The reaction on social media has been incredible. So many people are talking about how educational it was and it was also great to see people in circles that we were really trying to reach sharing it with their colleagues, like a lot of policymakers and people in local councils.

We’ve had lots of requests to translate it as well. And teachers have been teaching it in schools. Knowing that it’s reaching those kinds of people is really gratifying. 

Why do you think is gaming a good route for climate advocacy? What do you hope people take away from this game?

When we started thinking about it, we were interested in the long-term impacts of people’s decisions, which is so fundamental to climate action. Humans are used to acting in response to crises that are visible and tangible, but this is something that's so different from that.

What is the long-term impact if you take a flight now? How will that contribute to you not being able to go on a holiday to an island that’s been flooded in 30 years time?

That was very single-person focused way of thinking, and as we brainstormed, we realized that the best way to design the game would be to do it on a really global level, to be able to holistically bring in all of the different possibilities of climate action and the different industries we need to fix. 

But doing it on a global level would allow people to see the real consequences for their actions, because you're taking it for the whole world rather than 8 billion individuals. 

It's one of the first things to holistically bring together all of the different types of climate action and the types of decisions that need to be made into one quick activity. 

What were some of the toughest choices your team had to make when designing the game and winnowing down the choices for action?  

We spent so long working on his game, and so much time brainstorming and potentializing. 

The one we wish we could do more with was the methane question. We based the game on the IEA’s net zero scenario, because that would allow us as journalists to use a data-based analysis without us endorsing one set of actions or another.

We were able to stay neutral but the IEA covered only sectors that use a lot of energy. It didn’t really do much on land use or deforestation or farming, so in order to add in methane to the game for the very important educational aspect of that, we kind of just had to bring it in and add it into our numbers as “absolutely either you do it completely or not at all,” and some people were confused by that. 

How would you expand the game if you could?

There's so much you could do with it. One thing that it misses and lacks is the nature of international diplomacy. We tried to educate people on the trade-offs — if you move too fast on carbon taxes, for example, you get backlash from the voters. 

We wanted to simply educate people. It was difficult to give the player the role of all-powerful minister of the world, because there wasn’t much of the negotiations involved that have led to so many COP conferences falling apart and that is really the crux of all of the delaying on climate action. I would like for people to be able to pick a country and then play against other players in other countries and then negotiate — but that’s more of a board game. 

What do you hope to work on in the future in terms of climate coverage and advocacy?

I think that for me, the next big thing i'm interested in — it sounds dry but I think it’s really fascinating — is waste and the circular economy, because so much of the general public associates climate change with emissions from flying and heating their homes, but I think that many people don’t realize that emissions also come from processing materials and the fact that we waste so much. I’m fascinated in the shift from a world where we buy everything to a system where we rent and share things more and how that will play a major role in climate action.

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