Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's Play a Game

Heads up from LA Stormwater and FOLAR, a link to the ABC public outreach effort with respect to Australia's rivers and watersheds. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has put up an online game where you're in charge of an area of watershed called a catchment. You get to decide what activities you undertake - whether to plant crops, log forests, build factories or set up national parks. The aim is to avoid environmental problems and provide food and wealth for the population:

Managing Australia's waterways is a huge challenge with climate change, increased demand for water and environmental problems putting rivers under stress. Catchment Detox gives an idea of just how difficult it is to manage a river catchment. This game lets you see how your decisions play out over 100 games, and see if you can successfully detox an overburdened ecological system. Have you managed to create a sustainable cachement? Or does yours feed the economy at the expense of the environment, or the environment at the expense of the economy?

This is an intriguing game, in the spirit of Sim City, but with a goal of ecological balance rather than development as in the city-building simulation game. The thrust of Sim City is obvious, and the underlying assumptions are those that have driven the ever-expanding city grids in old-style development economics that see only profit in consuming land and resources:

Step #20: Zone more high density residential. Un-pause and watch it develop.

At this point you should see a pattern emerge. Keep going back and forth between your residential and industrial cities, zoning new areas as demand warrants, and raising the funding on your power plants as needed to fill demand.

In time, put in police, schools, hospitals, and other essential buildings, but not until absolutely necessary. It is possible to run a residential city for a very long time with no services other than fire and basic education. Your industrial city will require heavy fire coverage.

Your cities should be making money hand over fist at this point.

Clearly this digital scenario game has never incorporated natural capital or even energy and water conservation, and it's interesting to see these assumptions so baldly laid out. One can only hope that other scenario-building games will be developed that teach people how the process of sustainability in a local region is dependent upon the recognition that resources must be constantly renewed and revitalized in order to be able sustain life. Ultimately, ecological destruction means resource depletion and pollution, and of course this kills the system that provides fertile soil, clean air, and water. These consequences haven't been worked into a game yet, not even in the climate modeling software that could simulate the carbon feedback system that drives climate change.

At this moment in time, some climate models are moving forward that account for more factors in climate change predictions. Researchers from Environment Canada have developed one of the more recent ones, which still needs validation from observations and measurements.