Climate Interactive: Show, don’t tell

Climate Interactive: Show, don’t tell

By Sara Wanous

Each month, Citizens’ Climate Lobby hosts an online meeting featuring a guest speaker to educate listeners on topics related to climate change, carbon fee and dividend, and the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Check out recaps of past speakers here.

Climate Interactive is a think tank that provides modeling for climate policies and tools that show what’s needed to contain global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. The organization believes that the best way to engage policymakers in supporting effective climate policy is not to give them the answers, but to give them the tools to find the answers themselves. Drew Jones, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Climate Interactive, joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s monthly meeting this July to explain that “show, don’t tell” philosophy and to demonstrate their newest interactive tool.


Introducing a new way of thinking

Drew Jones began his career preparing models that demonstrated the most effective policy options to combat climate change and presenting the results to policymakers. But with this approach, he felt he wasn’t making progress proportional to the urgency shown in the models. Drew told us, “We came to a really sobering conclusion that was summed up by our mentor and one of our team members, Professor John Sterman: ‘Research shows that showing people research doesn’t work.’”

In the face of this realization, Drew and the Climate Interactive team found inspiration in the words of American architect Buckminster Fuller who said, “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” With this in mind, Climate Interactive set out to design interactive tools that people can play and work with to explore climate solutions for themselves.

En-ROADS tool

Over the course of eight years, through the work of countless experts  and with the most up-to-date data, Climate Interactive has developed the En-ROADS tool that will be released in about a month. En-ROADS is an interactive climate model that allows the user to apply different combinations of policies and observe their effects on global energy production and on our climate system.  Drew explained that with this powerful tool, “you could imagine a future with more renewable energy, or less oil, or electrification of cars, or less deforestation.” He also showed that each policy on its own has only a modest impact on our overall climate. 

Drew showed Citizens’ Climate Lobby how the model predicts the climate will react if the global economy implemented a $15/ton price on carbon that increases by $10 each year, such as the Energy Innovation Act that CCL supports in Congress. En-ROADS shows that this proposal would have a dramatic and fast response on net greenhouse gas emissions. If implemented globally by 2025, the policy could reduce net global warming by 1.4 degrees Celsius—more than any other proposed policy. From working with this model, Drew knows that “a carbon price is a high leverage way to keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground in the near term and therefore reduce temperature well below where it was expected to go to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.” 

Climate Interactive En-ROADS

However, Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal alone does not get us below the 1.5 degrees Celsius IPCC goal. Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates for a $15/ton price on carbon that increases by $10 each year as a critical step toward addressing climate change, but we know that additional steps will be necessary to meet our climate goals. Drew agreed, saying, “It’s not a silver bullet on its own. It’s maybe the most silver-ish bullet out there, but we’re going to need silver buckshot. We need other actions.” 

En-ROADS not only highlights the power of carbon pricing and the need for complementary action, but this tool also enables the user to explore those complementary actions by building additional policies onto the carbon price to explore what it will take for us to meet our goals. 

A tool for engaging congress

Drew shared that he is impressed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s approach to working with legislators on climate policy. He hopes that En-ROADS can help move conversations with legislators forward on the most effective climate solutions. “Imagine you, with this tool, sitting down with a wary legislator that doesn’t believe that we need a carbon price,” he mused. “They may be thinking, ‘Oh, we just electrify. Oh, we just do it with the forests. Oh, wind and solar will bail us out, research and development.’ No. Let them think on their own terms, with their peers.”

Putting a price on carbon pollution is an approach backed by facts and statistics stating it is effective, but those facts and statistics aren’t enough to change minds. New experiences and engaging tools like En-ROADS let policymakers engage with climate policies more intimately and on their own terms. When it comes down to it, showing rather than telling is an important key to advancing effective climate policy.

To hear more from Drew Jones, including some Q&A with CCL volunteers, watch the entire July meeting on YouTube or listen to the podcast.  Follow Climate Interactive on Twitter at @ClimateInteract and Drew Jones at @AndrewPJones.

Sara Wanous has been the Membership Coordinator at Citizens’ Climate Lobby since January 2018. She has a B.A. in Economics and B.S. in Environmental Science and Policy from Chapman University and is pursuing a masters in Climate Science and Policy at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.