Working with System Dynamics

Game: “The Global Economic System of Pollution”

Players have the job to set up a factory for a manufacturing company (or competing companies in the same industry). They win by being promoted to CEO of the company (or outcompeting all other companies), and they do so by running the cheapest operation.

Sadly, production is quite dirty and energy intense, so a lot of CO2 is emitted in the production process. The game is a board game, with an imaginary or real world map.

To start with, the managers choose the location of their factory among different territories with different environmental standards. They win by producing as cheaply as possible, but they have to keep transportation in mind, too. But largely, they’ll set up production in low-rule-of-law jurisdictions since they win by producing as cheaply as possible, which leads to a race to the bottom in terms of sustainability.

The loop that will happen over and over again is that the game will demand their products, and all the players can bid against each other. The contract goes to the lowest bidder. Players will need to make the decision how dirtily to produce (and whether to also skirt the already limited) environmental protection standards in their chosen manufacturing countries to go even cheaper) and how cheap/dirty they can ship. The only thing that changes at first are quantities demanded and location demanded, but through this loop players – I hope – will learn how cutthroat current markets are and that, if left unattended, they’ll lead to a race to the bottom in terms of environmental protection.

If players are successful, they can set up new factories to enlarge their empire. Here, the loop that will happen over and over again is finding out which countries will enable them to produce cheaply and are not big on fine enforcement when they emit too much CO2. Again, the repeated loop should reinforce the above learning.

In addition, there are “political news” coming in randomly, which add an element of randomness to the game as it means countries change their laws throughout the game, sometimes unexpectedly. These are just simple messages that help players understand the bigger picture, how people are getting fed up, or how there’s research produced that shows that carbon offsets don’t work, or that it’s the tools of a carbon tax or a border-adjustment mechanism (i.e. solving the market failures present in the pollution markets) which would help solve this challenge.

In addition, some feedback loop would be nice. Perhaps, the “news cards” could be in different stacks, and depending on how egregious one acts in polluting the environment and skirting laws, one needs to draw from a high-risk stack with a higher chance of getting regulated.

At the end, people come away from the many loops of racing to the bottom in terms of price and environmental protection and the story arcs of what is changing politically with a heightened awareness that regulatory action is the only way to save the climate – the key value embedded in this game.


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