Next steps for C-ROADS and climate change

MIT Sloan Professor John Sterman webinar on the Dynamics of Climate Change

Earlier this spring, MIT Sloan Professor John Sterman presented an important and well-attended live webinar, The Dynamics of Climate Change--from the Political to the Personal. One of the highlights of the webinar was a live demonstration of C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support) a free, award-winning computer simulation that helps people understand the long-term climate impacts of policy scenarios to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the live Q&A sessions immediately following the webinar, Sterman fielded a great number of questions from the audience. However, there were simply more questions than could be answered in the time allotted. We recently posed three of the larger, unanswered questions to Sterman, and we have shared his responses below.

What's next for C-ROADS?
The next steps for C-ROADS are driven by the negotiations and conversations occurring during the Paris climate agreements. First, there will be a new interface that will be easier to use and more widely available. (You can view a video preview of it here). And while the team behind C-ROADS will continue to work with negotiators and policymakers, they are also actively seeking to increase the number of skilled users. If you are interested in learning how to use C-ROADS in any setting--from the classroom to the community room to the boardroom--you can join the movement at: https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/world-climate/

The team behind C-ROADS also has a number of other related projects in the prototype phase, one of which is EN-ROADS, a simulation tool (similar to C-ROADS) for understanding how we can achieve our energy transition and climate goals through changes in energy use, consumption, and policies. The tool focuses on how changes in global GDP, energy efficiency, R&D results, carbon price, fuel mix, and other factors change carbon emissions, energy access, and temperature. It is ideal for decision-makers in government, business, NGOs, and civil society.

How can citizens take political action?
Sterman has written extensively on how some camps feel a new "Manhattan Project" is what's needed to solve the climate change problem. He feels that the real answer to the problem will more closely resemble the civil rights movement. "Then, as now, entrenched interests vigorously opposed change," says Sterman. "Success required dramatic changes in people's beliefs and behavior. Building public support for action on climate change is in many ways more challenging ... Science is not needed to recognize the immorality of racism but is critical in understanding how greenhouse gas emissions can harm future generations. The damage caused by segregation was apparent to anyone who looked, but the damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions manifests only after long delays."

What role can the developing world take?
In his post-Paris agreement assessment published in The Huffington Post, "The Paris Climate Agreement: Deliverance or Disappointment?" Sterman wrote, "Many developing nations continue to argue that the developed nations created the climate crisis and therefore bear historical responsibility to solve it by cutting their emissions, while the developing nations must continue to burn fossil fuels. That is simply not possible. To have any chance of limiting warming to 2°C (3.6°F), global emissions must fall essentially to zero before the end of the century. To do so, all nations must cut."

According to Sterman, the debate over historical responsibility is shifting from who gets to burn to who should pay to stop the burning. "The developed nations should help the developing world leapfrog the destructive fossil fuel economy through efficiency and renewable energy, just as Africa jumped straight to mobile telephony, leapfrogging landlines."

C-ROADS is available as a free download for both Windows and Mac. To date, nearly 20,000 people around the world have used C-ROADS to better understand the impact of policy decisions on climate change.

John Sterman is the Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT Sloan and directs the MIT System Dynamics Group and MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative. He teaches in the Executive Education program, Strategies for Sustainable Business, among others.

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