Climate Change War Games

Is climate change a losing game? Or, could the most powerful, most developed countries practice enough to “win?”

In the early 80s, you could argue that my generation’s biggest fear was nuclear war. In the 1983 film “War Games,” a scientist teaches a computer to simulate a nuclear war, to try to work out how either side could win without ever launching a real missile. Matthew Broderick’s character David Lightman finally finds the scientist, who tells him in this scene what the computer learned.

Stephen Falken: The whole point was to find a way to practice nuclear war without destroying ourselves. To get the computers to learn from mistakes we couldn’t afford to make. Except, I never could get Joshua to learn the most important lesson.
David Lightman: What’s that?
Stephen Falken: Futility. That there’s a time when you should just give up.
Jennifer: What kind of a lesson is that?
Stephen Falken: Did you ever play tic-tac-toe?
Jennifer: Yeah, of course.
Stephen Falken: But you don’t anymore.
Jennifer: No.
Stephen Falken: Why?
Jennifer: Because it’s a boring game. It’s always a tie.
Stephen Falken: Exactly. There’s no way to win. The game itself is pointless! But back at the war room, they believe you can win a nuclear war. That there can be “acceptable losses.”

Are there “acceptable losses” from climate change? We all have our opinions. But it has become clear that there will be losses. Species. Coast lines. Biodiversity.
Will the nations of the world be able to slow or reverse those losses? Maybe, with practice.

The Center for New American Security recently hosted a “Climate Change War Game,” in which several organizations role-played negotiating climate agreements on behalf of their assigned regions. From the Center’s press release:

“Using war game and scenario planning techniques developed by the military and private industry, the exercise will examine the national and international security implications of global climate change.

Recent polls have shown that there is a growing global concern about the threats posed by climate change. ‘Indeed, the security ramifications of climate change will affect both the developed and the developing world. This unique event will challenge participants to confront both the domestic and international security challenges of climate change,’ says John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress and a member of the Climate Change Consortium.”

What happened? Well, the game ended without a binding agreement on emission reduction targets. And while climate change is hardly like a nuclear war, the shared consequences could be.