Inspiring Climate Change Action

On June 1, 02020, Long Now Boston welcomed climate activist Curt Newton, who led an interactive virtual workshop on climate change. Curt introduced our audience to En-ROADS, a science-based tool that simulates various environmental parameters, resulting in potential climate change solutions. By manipulating these parameters using the En-ROADS simulator, Curt demonstrated the connectivity of these parameters and the contribution that each has on potentially stabilizing global temperature and sea-level rise over the coming decades. En-ROADS is an educational tool that can help individuals and institutions think long-term about climate change and the policy options that can make a difference.

Image from NASA

Summary by Jennifer Clifford for Long Now Boston

Key Learnings from the workshop:  

Climate change is a serious threat to the survival of natural systems on Earth.

If we continue operating under our current policies, global temperatures are expected to increase by over 4° C by 2100, which is greater than twice that of our climate goal of 1.5-2° C. What actions are required to reach our climate goals? Who is responsible? Studies show that the increasing climate-related data accumulation and modeling, which are incredibly important and useful in their own right, are not necessarily useful in inspiring people to take action on climate change. En-ROADS strives to identify ways to engage and motivate individuals and institutions to take action now in order to achieve long term benefit.


 Climate Interactive’s En-ROADS simulates the climate impacts of policy options.

What are the consequences, and uncertainties, when the metrics change on factors, such as energy supply or carbon sequestration methods, that contribute to climate change? The En-ROADS tool literally allows us to manipulate the level of any one, or several, factors, resulting in endless potential scenarios. Curt walked us through several examples by manipulating the various factors that influence increasing temperatures and we were then able to visualize the different simulated outcomes. We learned that factors including energy, transportation, population growth, land use, and others do not exist as distinct factors, but are interconnected. 

En-ROADS Simulation Screen

It is important for the future of natural systems to explore ways to increase climate literacy and discuss reforms that both individuals and institutions can enact now to mitigate future environmental risk. Anyone can try their own experiments based on unique assumptions using the En-ROADS tool and get immediate feedback on the likely impacts of the scenarios chosen. The exercise provides the opportunity to become better informed about the impact of current and proposed policy options on the climate. Armed with these insights, an individual will be a better advocate for responsible climate policies in conversations with family, friends and with the legislators that make those policy decisions. Collectively, it will be an informed citizenry that inspires legislators to enact evidence-based policies that achieve long-term benefits of a healthier planet. We owe this to our descendants.

Climate policy is complex – the choices are interconnected – the outcomes are stark.

As Curt led the participants through the workshop, it became increasingly clear that any one individual policy option relating to energy supply, industrial infrastructure, agriculture and land use, transportation economics or carbon removal does not have a material impact on the global outcomes. It is the collective impact of combined options that begins to bend the curve of future temperature rise. Moreover, many believe that keeping temperature rise below the 2 degree centigrade level is necessary to avoid climate extremes requires implementation of measures across the full range of options.   

This conclusion reinforces the critical importance of long term thinking in addressing climate change. The outcomes we want to change are long term, but the measures we need to take to get there are immediate.

About the speaker:

Curt Newton is the Director of MIT Open Course Ware and a former network systems engineer with Bell Labs.  He is also an En-ROADS Climate Ambassador and has been working hard to educate people about the science of climate change and the policy options we have to address it. He has facilitated En-ROADS games and workshops for high school classes and enrichment programs, graduate-level education students, a global network of education innovators, workplaces, citizens, and the MIT community.


The original event announcement can be found here.

Long Now Boston is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is independent from but philosophically aligned with the Long Now Foundation. Long Now Boston provides a forum for discussing, investigating and engaging in issues that have long-term implications for our global cultures. Long Now Boston hosts a monthly Community Conversation series in Cambridge, MA. Please sign up on our website for notices.

Cambridge Innovation Center is an in-kind sponsor of the Long Now Boston Conversation Series. We are very grateful for their support.

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