This post is about an excellent climate modelling tool called En-ROADS, developed by MIT and other organisations. By using a "hands-on" approach, it allows individuals or groups to learn about those factors producing climate change and also how to best to address the climate crisis. I haven't included any sample graphics - it's better if you explore the link above. You might start with the 3 minute video demo of how it works, then try running your own model.
This is what I like about En-ROADS:
- Tackling climate change is tricky. Leaving aside factors such as the influence of vested interests and biased media, climate modelling requires physical, economic and social models, with a high degree of interaction between the parameters. For example, given a price per ton on carbon, how will this affect CO2 emissions and then what is the impact on mean temperature over future decades? How does this strategy compare to (say) a tax of coal? En-ROADS actually answers these questions, plus a great deal more.
- Are the models accurate? It's reassuring that En-ROADS has been compared to many other climate models and IPCC standard scenarios (called SSPs) - it seems to give quite consistent results. There's a lot of good climate science behind the software, and it's being regularly updated.
- This tool is freely accessible to the public via a simple http web page. With so many input and output parameters the user interface it critical. En-ROADS provides a set of the most important adjustment levers (eg adjust how much of the transport system is electrified, assume a higher or lower population growth, adjust taxes on oil etc) then shows the resultant effect on mean temperature increase, compared to "business as usual". However there's a wealth of other results that can be displayed, plus detailed settings that can be adjusted. This degree of transparency and detailed modelling is wonderful - it's necessary to capture the complexity, but also might be daunting for casual users. En-ROADS therefore suggests a guided approach eg in an interactive workshop format.
- A global, rather than regional, model is assumed so it represents a global mean of climate policies and their results. Note some other tools on the Climate Interactive site look into various regional issues.
- In general, tipping points are hard to model, plus the interaction between these positive feedback loops. Thus in some respects En-ROADS may be too optimistic, depending on the values of various assumptions used in the model. At least En-ROADS provides useful information, plus references, regarding its assumptions.
- En-ROADS predicts outcomes such as CO2 concentrations over time, sea level rise, mean temperature increase etc. The "business as usual" path shows over 2 degrees temperature rise by mid century and about 4 degrees by 2100. Of course 4 degrees will probably result in catastrophic outcomes for humanity. At present it's too hard to model the effect of this on (say) GDP.