“Learning about climate change can sometimes be scary—terrifying, actually.”
The thought crossed my mind while out on a run during my first quarter of graduate school. Overall, I thought to myself, I’m really enjoying my program, but sometimes… sometimes the weight of studying climate science can become heavy. It gets even heavier when you really start to examine the impacts on people and ecosystems, as I found myself researching that quarter.
I was reaching the end of the term and getting ready to return home to Boston for winter break. While on my run, I was thinking about how excited I was to share everything that I had been learning with my younger sister, who was 14 at the time. But when I started to think of talking to her about my research on climate change, I became a little less excited. It really wasn’t a subject I brought up while I was in college when she was a lot younger, but I felt like now that she was growing up, and since a lot of my work focused on the topic, it should be something we talk about. I was at a loss of how to approach the conversation. Climate change is often an ominous topic riddled with conflict and made up of complicated layers that can be difficult to penetrate. In conversations with my younger sister, I wanted to be able to break down those barriers, encourage dialogue, and perhaps even inspire a sense of activism. I wanted to communicate the realism and urgency of climate change, but I also wanted my message to be positive; I wanted to inspire hope rather than instill fear. It occurred to me that I couldn’t be the only person thinking about this. How do parents talk to their children about climate change? How do teachers talk about climate change in the classroom? I didn’t know the answer to these questions, but I decided to offer my own solution: Why not make a children’s game about climate change?
Six months later, my game came to life as “Ready, Set, Curb!” an interactive board game where students play as a team to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their world by the year 2050. As students move around the board, they have the chance to reduce emissions by answering “team challenge” questions. Natural climate variability is looped into the game through cards that are the equivalent of “chance” in the well-known Monopoly game; when students land on a “climate impact” square, the resulting card can either add to or subtract from the overall emissions in the game. One final element of the game is the “climate impact pathways” where students team up to create linkages between an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and consequential impacts on humans, animals, and/or ecosystems around the world.
The greatest part of my gaming experience was the chance to play it within middle school classrooms in Seattle. I spent a day at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School playing with 5 different classes as part of the MESA program. In my short time interacting with the children, I learned so much more from them than I think they learned from me! Students told me stories about what climate change looked like to them and confided some of their biggest concerns about the environment in the present and in the future. I was so impressed with the level of experience and understanding of climate change that the students already had, and I was inspired by the honesty and candidness with which the students spoke about the need for personal and organized action for mitigation in the future. At the end of the day, I walked away feeling more optimistic about the future of our planet than I had felt in a long time. Through gameplay, the kids really showed me that they were prepared to act as the keepers of their own future.
Alex Stote is graduating from the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs in Spring 2019. This game was developed in partial fulfillment of a Graduate Certificate in Climate Science, and is dedicated to her younger sister, Emmi. Since the writing of this blog, several educators, ranging from middle school to college, have reached out to her about using her game, “Ready, Set, Curb!” as a learning tool in their classrooms. Her materials are available for free download at: https://pcc.uw.edu/education/classroom-resources/games/ready-set-curb/.