Climate change is staring us in the face. Areas of the Bering Sea in the Arctic are far above freezing temperatures, North America is suffering some of the worst wildfires in its recorded history and tropical cyclones are destroying people’s homes. Despite the very present nature of the threat climate change poses, less than half of the US population sees climate change as an imminent threat.
But if you think you can come up a solution to climate change, there’s a new testing ground: Minecraft. Developer Nick Porillo has made a new plugin for Minecraft that adds climate change to one of the most popular video games ever made.
The plugin, called GlobalWarming, adds a number of new elements into the game mechanics (it works with Minecraft’s Server Java Edition.) For starters, the concept of carbon dioxide is added to the game’s atmosphere. Different elements of gameplay affect the carbon dioxide levels in the game world’s atmosphere: Smelting ores or cooking using a furnace causes a contribution to in-game emissions, and have numerical values associated with them. Each burn increases emissions and the global temperature will continue to rise, with the frequency and severity of the resulting negative climate damage increasing gradually as temperatures creep upwards.
As carbon dioxide levels in the game rise, there are consequences, ranging from decreases in snowfall to severe storms and devastating forest fires. The best way for players to stop this? Trees. Planting trees will, much like in real life, absorb carbon dioxide and resist the climbing global temperatures.
The idea for the plugin came to Porillo after attending a course on climate change science, technology, and policy last spring at Rochester Institute of Technology, he told Motherboard in an email.
“[The course] really educated me on the topics at hand. Last week I was just playing the new Minecraft 1.13 update after a multi-year hiatus from Minecraft. I was shocked at how much things have changed, and the ocean biomes updates really introduced the ability to make this idea happen,” he said. “The (Minecraft) community believes there is potential educational benefit, so I've been working on developing cool ideas to make the gameplay fun and informational.”
In order to really try and halt damage to the environment on a large scale, players can purchase "carbon offsets" which create a tree-planting bounty for other players to fulfill—a concept that links back to one of the key themes of this game mode, cooperation.
“Cooperation is key because everyone is better off in the end if they spend a little more of their time reducing emissions rather than polluting as much as possible,” Porillo said. Players grapple with the selfish pursuit of smelting ores for their own material gain and trying to resist climate change by working to reduce emissions with other players.
“If the majority of players don't agree to be near-carbon-neutral in how they play, then the carbon score will only continue to rise in-game. Once the damage negatively impacts the players, they will begin paying back that 'debt' they accrued,” he said. “The idea is if the players put a little more effort in from the start to not emit a ton, then they can entirely avoid the price to be paid later.”
The plugin is currently only 5 days old, and is far from complete. Porillo is planning to add more features, like a carbon scorecard, where you can shame the largest emitters of greenhouse gases kind of like you can IRL, as well as economic integration where in-game currency can be used for tree-planting bounties.
If you want to test it out, you can download GlobalWaming from GitHub.