Observations from the MIT Sustainability Summit

May 1, 2014

As an undergraduate researcher for NECAP, I have spent this past semester studying the survey responses from simulation participants in all four towns. By taking participants’ thoughts and reactions to the role play games and representing them numerically, we can observe trends and make broader observations about how communities can best adapt to climate change. I really enjoy this process of searching for patterns and looking for statistically significant results. At the same time, by actually observing large groups of people participate in the game, I’ve also come to appreciate that climate adaptation is a complicated goal, without one strictly correct solution.

This morning, I joined a couple other members of the NECAP team at the MIT Sustainability Summit. There, I participated in one of our role-play simulations alongside the conference attendants. It was also the first time I got to observe a large group of people participating in the game. Participating in the simulation today, and listening to the comments of the other groups at the debriefing, I was shocked to hear how different each group’s “solution” was. Even though each table was presented with the same background information, the same character roles, and the same limited set of options, each group decided to tackle the coastal flooding in the fictional town of Launton in a different way.

I suppose this could be viewed as discouraging. If a room full of people studying and working towards sustainability couldn’t settle on a solution, then is there anyone who can? However, I choose to see it differently. I believe that there can be many correct ways to tackle climate change, so long as we make sure to do something. This is one of the many ways the role play simulations help, beyond what the raw numbers tell us about how many people groups reached a consensus and how quickly they did so. Actually participating in one of the games can show you the range of options these towns have available to them. I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t done so already to look through some of the simulation materials and have a look for yourself!

-Elizabeth Berg, Undergraduate Research Assistant