Using Simulations to Transform Climate Education

November 18, 2013 by Ellie Johnston

Students presenting during a World Climate Exercise

With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative and Climate Interactive are partnering to bring transformative climate change education tools to educators and students.  Our newly launched project uses simulation role-playing games to put students in the shoes of decision makers, navigating complex social systems while making climate and energy decisions framed by Climate Interactive’s accessible, transparent, and rigorous simulations. Tools, like the World Climate Exercise, offer students an opportunity to find out, in real time, how the climate and energy systems are likely to respond to technological advances, policy interventions, economic and demographic trends, changes in climate-Earth system feedbacks and more.

One popular simulation of the U.N. climate negotiations we will be studying is the World Climate Exercise. You can see from students’ comments here that this exercise has a transformative impact:

“[World Climate can] help with teamwork, strategic planning, public speaking, negotiating, and social skills to name a few. This simulation is far different from a simple lecture or even something as hands-on as a lab experiment. It puts you into the shoes of decision makers…”

“The hands-on experience … left a much deeper impression than simply reading or attending a lecture on the subject, and I am glad we performed this exercise in class.”

“Although this was just a simulation, it gave me an uneasy feeling of what our future may hold”

“It made me want to discuss these issues with my family and tell them … what is happening with climate change. It also made me want to take more action in my daily living to save carbon emissions.”

“We can get to zero carbon emissions.”

“It will definitely be worth the money to invest in cleaner technology than to pay for consequences (e.g. more natural disasters, higher water levels, etc.) of temperature increase later.”

Through this project, we will make it easier for educators around the world to bring these tools into their own courses in disciplines like: engineering, political science, sociology, sustainability, ethics, international studies, journalism, climatology and others.  With the help of SageFox Consulting Group, we will also assess what students learn from game experiences.  Educators who bring these tools into their own work will have an opportunity to join this research effort and—we hope—benefit from it.

The first phase of research entails collecting the experiences of people with the World Climate Exercise. If you have interest in using, or have used, World Climate, please help guide our efforts and join a growing, international community involved in our research project:

If you are interested in learning more about World Climate or are looking for  resources, please visit /simulations/world-climate/. You can also watch this short video of interviews with students after participating in World Climate.

To give educators a hands-on training and resources to use these educational tools in their own work, we will be holding an NSF-sponsored workshop January 15-16, 2014, in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Please contact Phyllis Procter ( if you would like to learn more or attend.