Scientists like to think that fact-based presentations using the best scientific evidence could change the opinions of people who don't believe in climate change. Unfortunately, that approach doesn't work. Even seeing the impact of climate change doesn't always work; NPR recently reported that some visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, still dispute climate change, despite seeing first-hand how quickly the glacier is shrinking. That's not just a story about a few people: Research shows that showing people research doesn't work. If facts and evidence don’t work, and first-hand experience doesn't work, can anything help people learn for themselves that climate change is real, and that the world powers and developing countries alike must act now to prevent further damage to human well-being?
John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, believes the answer is yes. Sterman says "No one can tell you what to think. The key is creating an environment in which people can learn for themselves." But how can this be done for climate change? By the time the effects are obvious, it will be too late. In such situations, simulation is the best method.
As Sterman detailed in a recent MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@workTM webinar, "The Dynamics of Climate Change—from the Political to the Personal," C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) is a free, award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. C-ROADS translates how national and international policy changes will affect greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures, sea level, and ocean acidification. Users--be they policy makers, scientists, business and community leaders, citizens, or students--can analyze up to 15 different nations or negotiating blocs at the same time, while also asking "what-if" scenario questions of the model. The model runs in less than a second, so users get immediate feedback showing the likely impacts of their policies. "No one tells you what scenarios to try," Sterman says. "You are free to explore and see what it would take to limit global warming and climate change."