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Fun and Games: Higher Ed Puts a Twist on Climate Action

By Sharon Chen
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With its specialized knowledge and expertise on climate change, higher ed is at the forefront of climate science and knowledge – but it can be challenging for academics and scientists to disseminate this information to the general population. In a new twist on climate change awareness, academics from Barnard and Columbia University have teamed up to create “EcoChains: Arctic Crisis,” a card game that teaches climate change to children through direct causation. If you pull a carbon card, your ice melts and the ecosystem that you have been building is destroyed.

As Stephanie Pfirman, the game’s creator and an Arctic scientist at Barnard College explains, studies have shown that people retain new knowledge better through hands-on game-playing, rather than reading articles. By finding relatable and fun ways to spread climate change awareness, higher ed is engaging in important climate work: the more people who understand climate change is happening, the more collective action we can take to overcome the challenge. Board games, toys, and competitions related to climate change are great ways to make the issue of climate change more accessible and understandable for everyone. After all, education is key when it comes to climate action. For more information on education and climate action, please join us on the Path to Positive.

 


Can Games Be a Game-Changer for Climate? 

Jeremy Deaton | Live Science | December 24, 2015

2015 will be remembered as a watershed moment in the fight against global warming. This year delivered a papal encyclical, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants , and a landmark international agreement on climate change, which President Obama described as a "turning point for the world."

It's against this backdrop that Barnard College Arctic scientistStephanie Pfirman introduced a new toy she developed to explain the impact of climate change. Pfirman and her collaborator, ColumbiaUniversity  professor Joey Lee, set out to design a game that would be as entertaining as it was educational. They refused, Pfirman said, to make "chocolate-covered broccoli." Instead, EcoChains: Arctic Crisis is strategic, as primed to stoke family feuds, they hope, as Monopoly or Risk.

Can games  lock in knowledge?

"We did a controlled study [presented at the 2015 American Geophysical Union conference] where people were randomly assigned to either play the game or to read an article," Pfirman said. "What we found in a four-week follow-up study is that people who played the game retained new knowledge better .”

In the game, players build a marine food chain — from ice algae and phytoplankton to ringed seals and polar bears. The ecosystem is buttressed by sea ice, which vanishes if players turn over a "carbon pollution" card. However, sea ice can be resurrected by playing a "renewable-energy" or "energy-efficiency" card. 

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