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Playing for the planet: How scientists use gaming to talk about climate change




The idea — to use video games to make the impacts of climate change “tangible,” in a virtual way — came to Manjana Milkoreit after her research showed a problem with how the topic was being handled at the political level.

“Participants in global climate negotiations tend to know actually very little about the climate science,” said Milkoreit, a political science professor at Purdue University in Indiana. “The facts that effectively are being used in the negotiations are very limited.”

Climate science — like the global climate itself — is fiendishly complicated, and no one really expects the politicians who negotiate things like emissions caps and carbon pricing to understand it as well as the scientists do. But politics is all about making choices.

So are games. So Milkoreit and her team, together with other researchers at various universities, built one.

The online simulation game they came up with — Earth Remembers — gathers dozens of players in a virtual room and assigns each a country and a national budget.

To play, each ‘country’ must negotiate with others to set emissions caps, then watch to see what their choices do to the planet, in five-year cycles — mimicking the deadlines set by global leaders who signed on to the 2016 Paris accord.

Political science professor Manjana Milkoreit of Purdue University. “There’s a big emotional component” to gaming that makes it a powerful tool for teaching the facts of climate change, she says. (Jeff Martino/CBC)

“It gives them a sense of what climate change actually might do, rather than just sitting in a political context and negotiating over national interests,” Milkoreit said. “So there’s a big emotional component.”

Milkoreit’s colleagues road-tested their game with delegates at the United Nations COP24 climate change conference in Poland last month, and previewed it at past global conferences, to positive reviews.

Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences, tried it out in Washington, D.C. at a science conference. He called it impressive.

“I think I understood for the first time viscerally, not intellectually,” Dessler said. “You understand how much power the big countries have in these negotiations.”

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, who runs the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, said she often feels like she’s “shouting down an empty well with nobody at the bottom” as she tries to explain to laypeople the “force-multiplier” effects of climate change — the fact that it makes other global threats, from famine to disease pandemics, more deadly.

She said she sees products like Earth Remembers filling a vital bridging role between science and politics: only governments can curb runaway climate change, but policy-makers seldom have the scientific grounding to know which approaches will work.

“Negotiators are not scientists,” said Hayhoe. “These gaming simulations [are] a fantastic way to connect the issue directly to our own decision-making.”

Hayhoe took to Twitter last year to lament the fact that a video her 11-year old son had posted showing him playing the hugely popular online game Fortnite had racked up 10 times more views than her own webinar on climate change.

Henri Drake heard her plea. The MIT graduate student turned to Twitch — a streaming platform for gaming fans that rivals the audience numbers for NFL football games — to invite climate scientists to play Fortnite with him while engaging in live-in-screen debates of the effects of climate change and the best policies for tackling it.

And it was popular — but as a forum for exchanging ideas, maybe not wildly successful. Typically, the science took a back seat to the spectacle. “Fortnite is a shooter game,” Drake said, “and so there’s often a lot of gunshots and explosions in the background and sometimes you just can’t even hear people because there’s all this warfare going on.”

He said he’s hoping to try again with a game a little closer to the subject matter, such as the soon-to-be-released Civilization VI: The Gathering Storm, an expansion of a popular franchise which has a storyline centred on a crumbling biosphere.

Henri Drake tried to use Fortnite as part of a streaming experiment in combining gaming with climate science outreach, but found the platform a little too noisy for the purpose. (YouTube/Contributed)

Others are pushing ahead with products of their own. EarthGames, based out of Seattle, describes itself as a “a growing community of researchers, game developers and students who share a passion for games and the environment.” The company has developed multiple games that model climate change — such as a choose-your-adventure story where the player is a water molecule travelling through time to stop environmental disasters.

In another EarthGames product, Infrared Escape, the player is a beam of infrared light trying to escape Earth’s atmosphere through a gauntlet of greenhouse gases.

Drake said the main goal for all such games should be fun — because nobody’s going to pick up on the message if the play stinks.

“If you can combine fun with education in the right way, you can have a lot of success because kids don’t usually want to do homework but they do want to play games.”

It’s something government agencies should factor into their own outreach efforts, Hayhoe said. Anything that engages with people through play has an audience. Games could be a very powerful tool for boosting public understanding of climate change, and the policy responses to it.

“If we want people to understand an issue as important as climate change that matters to every single human on this planet, we have to go out and meet people where they are,” she said.


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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla




Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm




Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover




KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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