Unit 6: Carbon Emissions Game
These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.
OverviewStudents play the Carbon Emissions game to be able to discuss the pros and cons of the commonly discussed policy options for carbon abatement (e.g., carbon tax, emissions trading).
Science and Engineering Practices
Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyze data to identify design features or characteristics of the components of a proposed process or system to optimize it relative to criteria for success. HS-P4.6:
Cross Cutting Concepts
Systems and System Models: Systems can be designed to do specific tasks. HS-C4.1:
Cause and effect: Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect. HS-C2.3:
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Natural Resources: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A2:
Engineering Design: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts. HS-ETS1-3:
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This page first made public: May 30, 2017
In this unit, students play a game, a variation on the "Pollution Game" (Corrigan 2011), to develop an appreciation of the pros and cons of the commonly discussed policy options for carbon abatement (e.g., carbon tax, emissions trading).
After completing this unit, students will be able to:
- Compare and contrast commonly discussed policy options for mitigating carbon pollution.
Context for Use
This game is useful at multiple levels for students of all disciplines. This unit can be used in introductory environmental studies and science courses, intermediate or advanced microeconomics or environmental economics courses and upper division geoscience and law and policy courses that use the module. This unit is flexible enough to be used as a stand-alone introduction to the pros and cons of pollution control policies. It is designed to be carried out over one long class period (75-80 minutes) but can be adjusted for shorter class periods. See suggestions in the the Teaching Notes and Tips section below.
Description and Teaching Materials
Teaching Materials Required for Unit 6
Unit 6 powerpoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.2MB May13 17) to introduce the concept of carbon pricing to reduce emissions.
Prior to class session
Before the class meeting, students should read:
- Policy Options for Regulating Emissions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 139kB Nov9 16) which provides an overview of criteria used for comparing common approaches for achieving emissions reductions.
- This Report (Acrobat (PDF) 90kB Sep1 16) by Peter Orszag about climate change when he was the Director of the Congressional Budget Office.
During class (2 part, total time: 90+ minutes)
In this unit, students will evaluate and compare commonly discussed options for regulating carbon emissions (command & control, emissions trading, carbon tax) with an in-class game based on Corrigan (2011)'s Pollution Game. The Unit 6 powerpoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.2MB May13 17) is used to introduce policies used in the
Part 1. Introducing Carbon Pricing (15 min Introduction)
As you collect the CBA Assignment, ask students if they have any questions about CBA or the main policy approaches for regulating air pollutants.
Part 2. Carbon Pollution Game (75+ minutes Group Activity)
Follow the instructions in the
With 15 minutes remaining, use some of the follow-up questions to generate discussion.
- Why are tools like carbon taxes and emissions trading called market-based instruments?
- What are the key advantages of using market-based instruments?
Market-based instruments are those that allow businesses to choose their abatement options, as opposed to the government mandating which abatement technologies must be used by regulated entities. Since both carbon taxes and emissions trading allow this flexibility, they are called market-based instruments (see Policy Options for Regulating Emissions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 139kB Nov9 16) for details).
- Between carbon taxes and emissions trading, which policy option allows regulators greater flexibility?
- Would you expect abatement costs to be similar or different across firms?
- What would make these costs similar?
- What would make them different?
- Operationally, how are carbon taxes different from emissions trading?
- What is the political issue at the heart of permit allocation in an emissions trading scheme?
- What kind of an allocation scheme would you recommend?
- Since regulators have, at best, only a vague estimate of firm-specific abatement costs, which tool—a carbon tax or emissions trading—is superior? Explain how your answer depends fundamentally on the science of climate change.
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Be aware that Regulator team gets a little shorted; they don't have to "do" the same calculations that the utilities do. The instructor can spend some time with them during the carbon tax round (when they were waiting on numbers from the utilities) going through a sample calculation to prepare them for what they will get from the utility teams.
- If your class period is less than 75 minutes and you want to complete in a single class period, consider providing students with the outcome of Phase 1 (CAC) and only playing Phases 2 and 3.
- There's also a lot of down time while the Utilities are waiting on the Regulators and vice versa. A suggestion could be to have the instructor be the Regulator and have he/she plot up what they *think* the utilities' MAC curves must look like based on the information each group gave them on the board, then set the tax that way. Then there could be more than two utilities, providing more opportunities for larger classes.
- Ideal size of each group is about 3 to 4. To suit your class size, you can make duplicates of the Ace and Deuce handouts to create additional groups of emitters using the same data. The more emitters the more realistic the game!
References and Resources
Corrigan, Jay R. (2011) The Pollution Game: a Classroom Game Demonstrating the Relative Effectiveness of Emissions Taxes and Tradable Permits. The Journal of Economic Education 42 (1): 70–78. doi:10.1080/00220485.2011.536491.
environment360. (No date) Putting a Price on Carbon: An Emissions Cap or a Tax?
Environmental Defense Fund. (No date) Cap and trade
Krugman, Paul. (2009) Unhelpful Hansen. New York Times, December 7, 2009.
Orzsag, Peter R. (2007) Issues in Climate Change. Congressional Budget Office.
Pew Center on Global Climate Change. No date. Climate Policy Memo #1: Cap and Trade v. Taxes. Retrieved at Climate Policy Memo #1.
Stavins, Robert. (No date) Cap-and-Trade, Carbon Taxes, and My Neighbor's Lovely Lawn. An Economist's View of the Environment.
Weitzman, ML. (1974) Prices vs. Quantities. The Review of Economic Studies, pp. 477–91.