Tuesday 29 November 2016

Environment WorldGame (1991)

The following was a report I'd published online shortly after attending the Ottawa Carleton Pugwash WorldGame event in 1991 -- I attended this with my oldest son, Linton, who was 7 years old at the time (who says kids can't do thinktank exercises!) The report was formatted crudely through an online LaTeX converter just so I could throw this out there for anyone who may be interested.

Environment WorldGame

<title>Environment WorldGame™ </title>
<authorgroup>Carleton University/Pugwash</authorgroup>
March 16, 1991


News of this WorldGame came nonchalantly over electronic news:
>From mag@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Wed Mar 6 15:51:58 1991
	From: mag@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Michael Gifford)
	Newsgroups: ott.general
	Subject: The Environmental World Game
	Summary: Student Simulation Game at Baker Hall, Carleton U
	Keywords: Pugwash, simulation, world, Student, Baker Hall
	Date: 6 Mar 91 05:03:08 GMT
	Distribution: Ottawa
	Organization: Sandelman Software, Debugging Department, Ottawa


	The Canadian Student Pugwash is sponsoring an event at
	Baker Hall, Carleton U, within a National Conference. This
	part of the conference is free and open to students here in

	A 3 to 4 hour simulation with 100 to 300 people, played on
	a 40x70 foot world map. Participants will engage in actions
	that help them learn about the environment. Its problems,
	options, and interconnections from a global and local
	perspective. Durring the game, players are given the power and
	opportunity to solve the world's problems as well as create the
	kind of world that they want to live in. Because participants
	learn about the environment from an active and empowered
	perspective, the game serves as a testing ground for later
	action by individuals and groups.

	As a participatory event, the Environmental World Game has
	been designed to put players in charge of the world. The event
	is not an academic exercise, but rather about changing the

	1:30 to 5:00 Saturday, March 16th
	Baker Hall, Carleton University.
	For more info either reply to this letter, respond
	to my email address, or call
	Mike Gifford @ 563 - 0176
	or Canadian Student Pugwash @ 234 - 3622
	Mike Gifford -- 2nd year Integrated Science Studies..
	** -- I am normal.. And everyone else is wierd..
	/ -- Mike_Gifford@xxxxxxxxx/mag@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
	\_/ -- attending Carleton University, in Ottawa..


With the new moon overhead in Pisces, Linton and I made our may from our drop-off point, through the maze of campus tunnels to a canvas-walled room in the Carlton Unicenter where we filed in with about a hundred others. At the door, we were issued with a stats chart for North America, 1970, the two of us representing three fifths the total population, 6% of the world total.

Set and Setting

Inside Porter Hall, a vinyl-coated, dymaxion sky-ocean map two meters to the icosa-edge was taped to the floor with the north pole at roughly center court of the gymnasium sized hall. Our guides began with their preamble on time-scales, beginning at Antarctica with geological time and adding the hydrosphere, lithosphere, flora and fauna at proportional points along the long edge, eventually crowding the map with population in the last few millimeters. Overhead, relevant statistics and key points in European history were synchronously projected, prompting Linton to ask, often at first and less as he grasped it, when he and I would climb on board.

Before the game began, hats were issued to represent each 2% of humanity, with additional hats for the biosphere’s players and the United Nations, with those left over becoming the media. Plastic food, fuel candles, technology coupons and WorldGame™ money were then issued in proportion, the current stats on production and consumption displayed and a brief recess taken while each area decided on a game plan to obtain their projected needs. In these discussions, those previously issued illiteracy cards were kept mute.

To gain some perspective, we were then asked a number of questions and asked to rise if, for example, we had more than 3 candles per hat. A surprisingly large group stood when asked for those with at least one food prop per hat but no fuel. Similar questions most conspicuously singled out we North Americans, and Linton, having at first asked to hold our excess hats and food, was beginning to perhaps regret his fortune, and was most definitely tired of all the standing and sitting.

Following this, the overhead projection changed to a chart of current annual consumption and supply values for each of the issued commodities listed by region. Each line ended with a blank column for each ‘team’ to fill in their standings at the end of the game.

Before beginning the first round, we were asked to list features we felt would make the world a perfect place. We were asked for only positive features, things to be added to the world, rather than for items we’d wish removed or negatively affected. We offered a number of seemingly wild requests from a wide spectrum of interests. We offered cessation of hostilities, world-wide travel and trade, complete literacy and health and wealth for all. Each suggestion was noted on a transparency and the game was set to begin.

Playing the Game

Each round of the game was to follow a simple pattern:
  1. mass pandemonium for some period of time
  2. a complete halt in world-wide transactions while everyone watched the media report.
Transactions would include deals made to further a group’s stated objectives, but in keeping with the environmental theme of the session, the transactions would also include warnings and citations made by the environment and deals made either directly or through agencies such as the U.N. to avert biospheric foreclosures. In preparing each deal, a form was provided to list the trouble to be addressed, the proposed solution and the impact this solutions might have.

Once filled in, forms were submitted to the United Nations for pricing. If affordable, the fee was then to be returned to the U.N. where the deal would be ratified. In the case of projects meant to appease the environment, the U.N. would specify the cost in green technology credits and/or billions of dollars or some fantastic number of old standard technology credits and even more dollars. Other regional objectives, such as improving literacy, would require an appointment with a WorldGame™ official. Beyond this, there were no other rules.

North America does not stand a chance, no matter how philanthropic we wished to be. We simply do not have the manpower to handle the overwhelming traffic of a world stage. We also learned the world at large is not in dire need of our food, our fuel or even our technology, but they do need our money, and we have scads of it. We saw a graphic demonstration of why so many North American business people travel: the office is nuts at home.

By comparison, Europe, Japan, and the emerging third world in South America and India have all the same resources we have, but they have very pressing needs to motivate them, and they have enough of a population to apply themselves to serving the world markets. Here we have the three of us frantically scribbling out paper-work, running back and forth to the U.N., making hurried world-tours, answering the endless line of complaints, trying to make at least a little sense from the overhead resource-by-region table and, on rare and completely wasted occasions, finding a few minutes to speak with the press or to fill in the proper forms. The others have ample staff and can afford to pair each problem with a person who can pursue it at their leisure. And they did.

By the end of the game, quite by accident and with a lot of help from Linton’s last-minute wheeling and dealing, we had made our objectives. We had aimed to maintain our food consumption, complete our literacy to 100% and even, in good North American style, to consume just a little more power, and all of these were just met, but not without cost and a long list of outstanding complaints.

Two of three rounds had us tied up attempting to appease the United Nations with major environmental campaigns many times larger than any our competitors could afford. These deals, to be made in the public view live on TV, never made it to the newscasts and, on the following rounds, we’d return to the U.N. to find the ante upped considerably. In the mean time, we had accumulated more warnings and death warrants from the biosphere than any other region, certainly more per capita, while our neighbours to the south found they had such surplus of green technology, they could trade for smiles.

Not that we didn’t do some good. Somewhere in the morass of scribbled forms, we did buy some tiny amounts of African food surplus for fantastic amounts to cover the penalty fees levied on each failed literacy test. Had any of our environmental deals solidified, we would have clearly scored some bonus points for the dramatic clean-slate, at a cost of complete and immediate conversion to non-fossil fuels and some few hundreds of billions. We’d have done so much, had there been time.

Linton spent the game running reconnaissance to find those few candles we sought and to line up trade deals. As the only one under 18, he was a little too shy run some of the errands we so desperately needed, such as running proposals, price-lists and payments to the U.N., but as the afternoon progressed, he became more comfortable and actually found several important last-minute deals. I’m not really sure how our compatriot fared: On each return home to pick up more forms, we’d find a jumbled stack of environmental warnings, un-ratified proposals, loosely filed successful deals and the ever-comforting but rapidly diminishing bale of cash.

In the final media report, we learned the reason for our bad press coverage. At one interview, I had been asked for a bribe, but had foolishly thought the fellow was joking. Linton asked if this was why, when he and Carla had been interviewed by the TV crew at their lemonade stand, the clip was never shown.

Beyond the Game

Following the final news, the props and hats were stowed away, the forms collected for disposal and the map cleared of players in preparation for a demonstration in numbers. Beginning at Antarctica, 10,000 black bingo chips were poured over the lands, proportional in area to the size of the ozone hole. A further 20,000 were spread out over South and North America to depict the total clear-cut area, and 20,000 more over the remaining continents to show both the total number of nuclear warheads (53,000) and their proportional area of total devastation, i.e. total. In the commentary, the chips were also said to illustrate proportions such as the total number of blacks living under apartheid in South Africa, and also the proportion of literate people.

At the closing, we returned to our transparency notes of features for a perfect world. By this time, the list included food and shelter, benefits and luxuries and a general world-wide lasse-faire complacency to be enjoyed by all. This list, according to the commentary, was not substantially different from those collected at the other runs of the WorldGame™ , and this had prompted them to price the list. At the bottom line, a total cost for complete world luxury came to about 50 billion dollars, or, as was graphically depicted, about one quarter of the current total expenditures on the military.

Finally, we were asked rhetorically if we knew how one person might begin to take our present world toward the dream: Kneeling to pick up just one bingo chip and return it to its box, our commentator recalled the Chinese proverb

“Journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”
Our map was quickly cleared, a task Linton especially enjoyed, jumping right in completely free of all shyness. After the crowds had run off to catch some bus back to the host convention, and while I talked with the WorldGame™ organizers, Linton continued to help with the map, carefully removing the tape and freeing the sections for packing.


Some months later, Linton came home from school with a new set of Micro-Machine cars. He explained in detail how one friend had wanted to trade his cars, but didn’t want more cars in return and how a second friend had had some action figures he was willing to trade for a few cars …