Could playing 'games' help safeguard our planet?

James H's picture
The success of the London 2012 Olympics shows that our enthusiasm for 'The Games' has not waned since our earliest civilisations battled to become Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). As the sun sets on the Games of the XXX Olympiad and we head off to XXXI in Rio, the next 4 years have been deemed crucial by some organisations for addressing potentially one of the biggest issues facing our planet - global warming. We are just 2 short months from the half way point and the remaining 50 months will take us up to the next 'Greatest Show on Earth' in Rio 2016. London 2012 has been described as the 'greenest games ever' and this article debates quite nicely just how true this is. Regardless of the efforts that have gone into building the venues from recycled materials and creating new wildlife habitats, the article points out that ...

staging the Games will still have a greater footprint than the entire population of any of the boroughs bordering the park. It works out as equivalent to a year’s carbon dioxide emissions from 320,000 Londoners.

As with all of these things, the true emissions impact is difficult to weigh up but I think it's pretty safe to say that with all the travel and energy consumption associated with the last two weeks of games within London and across the globe, that footprint is big! - Very big! Ironically, if we all swam, cycled and ran with the effort of the Brownlee brothers in our daily lives we would cover a lot of miles with far less pollution and feel a lot healthier and potentially wealthier for it. Unfortunately though, while we will no doubt take some inspiration from watching these amazing feats of human endurance, we are now more 'inactive' as a nation than we have ever been with researchers saying ...

the (inactivity) problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

So, how could we use lessons from London 2012 to make the most of these next 50 months to reduce carbon emissions and, together, help and inspire the 2016 hosts to address some very serious traffic congestion and pollution issues in Rio? As readers of this blog will know, I have been become increasingly focused on transport related issues and automotive innovation over the last few years and particularly how convergence of technologies could help address the fact that 'fuel combustion' from the energy and transport industries contributes the greatest volume of CO2 emissions in our lives. (The European Environment Agency data at the end of this post shows the impact of road transportation in particular). Technological advance however is only part of the story and is unlikely to have much of an impact without fundamental behavioural change. Since April this year, I have been working with Hampshire County Council and Southampton and Portsmouth city councils on sustainable transport initiatives as part of the Department for Transport's Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). Central to this is the use of digital technologies to help communicate and support behavioural change. In the majority of discussion forums and workshops I have attended and/or run over the last few months, the potential for 'gamifying' aspects of these initiatives is mentioned frequently and it is an area I am keen to understand how this might work to encourage people to use their cars less on the congested motorways and city centres here in the South and make more/better use of more sustainable forms of transport? A Google search on 'commuter challenges' shows how popular this concept has become and the top return - illustrates the types of challenges that have been run in recent years.  I get a sense however that this appeals most to those who already understand the dangers of 'inactivity' and the vast majority of us continue to sit back and 'spectate', in the way we've been doing over the last couple of weeks, rather than become actively involved. Can you think of a game that would get you out of the comfort of your car on a regular basis and make better use of own feet to get to and from work? - After all, they are the most sustainable form of transport there is?

This table and chart shows the growth of CO2 emissions for the EU since 1990 and particularly the volume of CO2 generated by road transportation. - Source: European Environment Agency, June 2010.