Susan Spierre


Arizona state university

Materials Contributed through SERC-hosted Projects


An Experiential Pedagogy for Sustainability Ethics: The Externalities Game part of Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience:Games:Examples
Students today experience a multitude of encounters with collective action in their everyday lives, including online social networks (Crossley & Ibrahim, 2012), cooperative video games (Smith, 2005) and student political protests (Giguere & Lalonde, 2010). Unfortunately, this familiarity with collective success at the smaller scale, in which the problems are relatively simple to navigate, fosters the misconception that the achievement of collective action is always easy. In reality the attainment of cooperation to sustainably manage large-scale common-pool-resources (e.g., the climate system) is a difficult challenge because it necessitates significant personal sacrifice for group benefit (Ostrom, 1999). The Externalties Game (TEG) offers instructors a tool to address this misconception directly, providing students with the challenge of achieving class-wide cooperation, despite significant transaction costs to individual players. This game-based activity provides both a knowledge base and teaches the necessary skills for students to successfully navigate collective action problems. In particular, we have found TEG to be extremely useful for teaching students about climate change, which requires international cooperation for effective mitigation. Specifically, TEG allows students to experience the difficulty of collective action in situations where the interests of players are varied and achieving group cooperation involves costs to individuals. In TEG, students are presented with a simultaneous, non-cooperative game theory problem where there are three types of producers (luxury, intermediate and subsistence) with varying production rates for externalities and profitability. The externalities are calculated using an exponential function, whereas the points from production are produced with a linear function. Each student earns grade points calculated as private profits minus their share of social costs generated by the entire class. The tension in the game is created by the students' desire to maximize their individual grade points at the expense of others in the class. Sub-optimal production levels may lead to failure of a portion or the entire class to obtain passing grades. Reflecting on the game-experience fosters a rich classroom discussion on how game-play simulates real problems of collective action and environmental externalities, such as climate change. The three producer roles can be used to represent various country groups. For example, the luxury players represent developed economies, intermediate players symbolize developing economies, and the subsistence players exemplify the least developed nations. Post-game discussions are characterized by issues of justice, leadership, and trust. Some students realize that their actions in the game are different from what they identify as just in real-life situations ('the moral saint fallacy'). We find that students are left with an appreciation for the challenge, and also the criticality, of collective action at the global scale in addressing problems like climate change. Below you will find clear game rules and an excel-based game calculator for administering the TEG. Suggestions for both pre-game and post-game activities/ assignments are also provided.

Events and Communities

Climate Communication 2012