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Graduates’ climate change game to connect players around the world

by Thea Singer

For the mem­bers of the Mixed Paper Design Col­lab­o­ra­tive, founded by four North­eastern alumni, addressing global cli­mate change will be the name of the game on Sat­urday after­noon in Boston.

That’s when the group—which gen­er­ates “designs for resiliency in urban coastal areas,” according to co-​​founder David ParkerAMD’13—will host a round of the game World Cli­matea cli­mate change nego­ti­a­tions exercise.

The World Cli­mate game was devel­oped by Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nology pro­fessor John Sterman and Drew Jones of the non­profit orga­ni­za­tion Cli­mate Inter­ac­tivewhich cre­ates tools for exploring issues such as cli­mate change and clean energy.

Tracking the footprint

The World Cli­mate game brings people together to serve as “del­e­gates” from regions across the devel­op­ment spec­trum to sim­u­late an inter­na­tional cli­mate change nego­ti­a­tion. At the start of the game, the par­tic­i­pants receive “brief­ings” describing their par­tic­ular delegation’s cir­cum­stances and con­tri­bu­tion to global warming. They are then charged with reaching an agree­ment that will curb green­house gas emis­sions enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Cel­sius above prein­dus­trial levels by 2100.

That agree­ment, say the game hosts, matches the one the United Nations 21st Con­fer­ence of Par­ties, or COP21, must reach in Paris this December. The COP21 includes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from gov­ern­ments, the pri­vate sector, and other major decision-​​making bodies around the world.

We liken the game to a Model UN,” says Mixed Paper member Ashley CryanMES’13, who won an award at Northeastern’s 2013 Research, Inno­va­tion, and Schol­ar­ship Expo for her work on the poten­tial effects of cli­mate change on the inci­dence and severity of the harmful algal blooms known as red tides.

At game’s end, each del­e­ga­tion deter­mines its emis­sion reduc­tion pledges, which, for example, might include to what extent it will switch to renew­able energy sources or expand forests to remove carbon dioxide from the atmos­phere. The pledges are entered into a com­puter sim­u­la­tion pro­jected on a large screen that shows all par­ties, in real time, how their deci­sions will affect the global cli­mate system, based on met­rics such as tem­per­a­ture increases and sea level rise.

“Thou­sands of people, including the 30 at our event, will be playing the game around the world,” says Cryan. “The aim is to engage the Greater Boston com­mu­nity in cli­mate sci­ence, policy, and advo­cacy ahead of the cli­mate talks in Paris.”

An inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to resilience

Mixed Paper, which now com­prises seven mem­bers, sprang from a prize-​​winning project that Parker began with Lukas LaL­ib­erté, Matthew Stoner, and Debby Yeh, all AMD’13, as stu­dents. The project involved reimag­ining neigh­bor­hoods in the Red Hook sec­tion of Brooklyn, New York, after Super­storm Sandy. The stu­dents used ele­ments of archi­tec­ture, envi­ron­mental sci­ence, and graphic design in their plan to rebuild the area.

“Mixed Paper focuses on how a city can best bounce back after a shock, from the per­spec­tive of both infra­struc­ture and com­mu­ni­ties, in par­tic­ular, the pop­u­la­tions most vul­ner­able to the dis­aster,” says Cryan, who cur­rently works as a pro­grams and admin­is­tra­tive assis­tant at the MIT Energy Ini­tia­tive. “That includes how it can become resilient to cli­mate change.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tive is assem­bling a “micro­cosm of the Boston com­mu­nity” to play the game, says Parker, noting the inclu­sion of pro­fes­sionals as well as col­lege and high school stu­dents. “We’ve worked to incor­po­rate high school stu­dents,” adds Cryan, “as they’re the ones who are going to be in charge of the world in the coming century.”

Cap­ping the evening will be talks by Michael GreenS/SSH’13, and Ramón BuenoGreen, who will be attending the COP in Paris in December, is exec­u­tive director of the Boston-​​based Cli­mate Action Busi­ness Asso­ci­a­tionwhich helps small local busi­nesses advo­cate cli­mate change. Bueno, who is a cli­mate expert spe­cial­izing in com­puter mod­eling and data analysis, will dis­cuss the trade­offs between mit­i­gating and adapting for cli­mate change.

North­eastern as change agent

Both Parker and Cryan credit North­eastern with set­ting them on the path to their sustainability-​​focused careers.

Cryan cites her final co-​​op, at Woods Hole Oceano­graphic Insti­tu­tionon Cape Cod, with leading not only to her RISE award but also her con­tin­uing area of research. At Woods Hole, she exam­ined all the eco­log­ical studies on red tides in the Gulf of Maine, and cor­re­lated the results with cli­mate change pre­dic­tions. “I seized the oppor­tu­nity to review existing lit­er­a­ture on this species and com­pile a thesis that addressed how these harmful algal blooms might respond to cli­mate change,” she says. “It was a great learning experience.”

Parker, who cur­rently works as an archi­tec­tural designer at Kao Design Group in Somerville, Mass­a­chu­setts, points to his com­pre­hen­sive design course during his senior year as a for­ma­tive influ­ence. “The course showed me that archi­tec­ture doesn’t end at the building—that’s just the phys­ical aspect of a much bigger idea,” he says. “It should be driven by con­cepts like global cli­mate change, regional plan­ning, and a resilience mindset.”

The World Cli­mate game will be held Sat­urday, Nov. 7, from 12:30–4 p.m., at the Boston Society of Archi­tects, 290 Con­gress St., in Boston.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on November 4, 2015.

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