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Modeling as a Tool for Planning

robertoBy Roberto Telleria

What are the determinants of wellbeing, and how can they be influenced by policies? As pointed out by experts such as John Helliwell, Co-Director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) (Helliwell, 2002), Professor Richard Easterlin of the University of Southern California (Easterlin, 2001) and Christian Grootaert of the World Bank (Grootaert, 1999), the determinants vary according to geographical location, age, gender, time, and other economic, social and psychological variables. Thus the question of what determines wellbeing is complex. The level of wellbeing of a household seems to be a question that every member of that household can answer themselves, but this answer relies on their perceptions of what constitutes a high quality of living, family life, health, education, and the environment.

In this short article the complexities involved in modeling the interactions between the variables that determine wellbeing, and those that determine policies, are presented. Two examples illustrating the interactions between health and deforestation, that in turn affect wellbeing, are discussed. Read More »

Why and How We Should Preserve Forests: Synergies Between Logging and Forest Conservation

teresaBy Teresa de la Fuente

The benefits that humans obtain from forest ecosystems are numerous. Forests provide goods such as timber, paper, food (mushrooms, honey, roots, fruits, edible leaves, etc.), medicine, and fuel wood, as well as cash income and jobs in the industrial forest sector and ecotourism. Forests also provide ecological services, such as watershed protection (protecting the soil from erosion, regulating water flows, and improving infiltration), biodiversity conservation (forests ecosystems are the habitats for many plants, fungi, and animals), and climate change mitigation (trees absorb and store carbon dioxide for long periods of time, as explained in this previous post). Forests are also important to many cultures because of their beauty, and spiritual and cultural values. Read INESAD’s 5 Rainforest Ecosystem Services that Nourish People and Planet for more details.

If these services, such as carbon storage, are recognized as commodities, the value of forests will rise. The concept of “payments for environmental services” (PES) is explained by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR): “Payments for environmental services are economic instruments that provide incentives to land users to continue supplying an environmental service that is benefiting society more broadly”. These payments can encourage local communities to preserve their forests.

But what does “forest conservation” mean? Does it mean that the forests must remain completely untouched? Is it possible to harvest forest resources and preserve forest ecosystems at the same time? Read More »

Taking stock of REDD seven years after Stern

Charles PalmerBy Dr Charles Palmer*

The release of the Stern Review in 2006, which looked at a wide range of evidence to estimate the cost of a changing climate, was an important milestone in our understanding of the economics of climate change. It made a convincing economic case for protecting the climate function of forests, particularly with respect to tropical forests. Until Stern, biomass in such forests, both below and above ground, were long known to store vast quantities of carbon, the release of which was contributing to anthropogenic climate change.  While the term ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation’ (REDD) had not yet been coined, Stern demonstrated that slowing down deforestation had the potential to be a cost-effective strategy in the fight to mitigate against some of the effects of climate change. Read More »

Making people more prosperous with forests than without

jbush120By Jonah Busch*

Tropical forests store carbon that regulates the global climate. They provide clean water to farms. They shelter a dizzying range of unique plants and animals, and are a source of life-saving medicines. These services are enjoyed by people all over the world, for which they are sent no invoice and pay no bill. But the value that forests provide directly to local people, in the form of hunting, wood collection, and so forth, is often less than the value of cattle or crops. So for many local people, deforesting for agriculture is more profitable than leaving the forest standing.

International payments for forests’ carbon could change such calculations, making land more valuable as a forest than as agriculture (as explained eloquently by Lykke Andersen at 1:53 of The REDD Dilemma ). This concept is often described as “making forests worth more alive than dead.”

But forests don’t make zoning decisions, wield chainsaws, set fires, or plant crops. People do these things. So perhaps “making forest worth more alive than dead” has a corollary: “making people more prosperous with forests than without.” After all, what good is increasing forests’ value through carbon payments if people aren’t better off as a result?

Read More »

Learning to Play and Playing to Learn!

Angelina Gherardelli


Leelo en español AQUÍ SpanishFlag

By Angelina Gherardelli

“If you want to take all the fun out of it, get a bunch of educators involved”

A common joke in game designer circles.

As children we run, jump, and most importantly we play. When my five year old nephew was learning geometrical shapes and colors he played a game where he had to assemble a red square, a green triangle, and other colored shapes into a perfect cube. No one would think of sitting him down in a classroom with a chalkboard and telling him ‘learn this’, at least not at that age. But the game taught him to figure out the rules for himself through patient trial and error. In the same way this simple game taught my nephew basics geometry concepts, colors, and how to follow rules, games can also teach us how to set personal goals, create social bonds and socialize, and learn to navigate in a world that is mostly unknown. Read More »

5 Agent Based Modeling Games That Teach

Jillian CordesBy Jillian Cordes*

An Agent Based Model (ABM) is a model that simulates interactions between individuals and groups in social and environmental settings. These theoretical models are developed as a way to analyze behavior based on methodological situations. Using computation-intensive procedures, the concept of ABM was developed as early as the 1940s, but did not gain momentum until the 1990s. These models can be used to solve and better understand a variety of business, technological and social problems. For a no-nonsense explanation of how ABM works, see What is Agent Based Modeling?

Typically researchers use real data to “model” the behavior of their “agents” in order to see what kind of changes can be expected to happen when small variables are adjusted. Today, Development Roast brings you five different games that use ABM to simulate and teach real-life change: Read More »

Games for a New Climate: It’s time to take games more seriously!

Tracey LiLeelo en español AQUÍ SpanishFlag

By Tracey Li

This month saw the release of INESAD’s SimPachamama game. This is an educational simulation game, designed to teach the user about the deforestation and human wellbeing challenges associated with rural development in Bolivian forest communities. Being freely available online, it can be accessed and played by a large number of people.

However, more traditional ‘low-tech’, face-to-face games can also have a powerful reach: in recent years, many large non-government organizations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross have co-designed multiple participatory games. Facilitators from these organizations then take the games to several countries over the world, where they are used as educational and/or training tools in workshops. Read More »

Guess Who’s Chopping Down the Amazon Now

DeforestationBy Juan Forero, article originally published by NPR.

Though Brazil’s Amazon has been the focus of environmental groups for decades, the deforestation rate there has fallen dramatically in recent years as clear-cutting of Amazonian jungle in eight other countries has started to rise.

As a result, the 40 percent of Amazonia located in a moon-shaped arc of countries from Bolivia to Colombia to French Guiana faces a more serious threat than the jungle in Brazil. The culprits range from ranching to soybean farming, logging to infrastructure development projects.

And in no other country is the problem as serious as in landlocked and remote Bolivia. Though better known for its bleak and haunting highlands, 70 percent of Bolivia’s land mass is part of the Amazon basin, from biodiverse foothills to lowland jungles. It’s an area bigger than California; but every year, nearly 1,400 square miles are deforested, about two-thirds the size of Delaware. Read More »

Concussion Slayer and Four Other Games Making a Real Difference

Half the sky the game

By Angelina Gherardelli

‘Serious games’ are games with a purpose that go beyond sole entertainment by aiming to educate, inspire, or even change certain real world behaviors of its players. ‘Games for good’ or ‘games for change’ focus specifically on creating social change.

The movement is widespread and—as witnessed by the last three months alone—it is gathering momentum. In May, Crete (Greece) welcomed the first international workshop on Intelligent Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion; Paris followed with a Games for Change Europe Festival in June; and August brought together the leaders of the serious games industry for a Serious Play Conference near Seattle. The study and development of serious games started spreading in the last decade thanks to the increased understanding of the enormous potential gaming has as learning tool —as explained in the article published on Development Roast Learning to Play and Playing to Learn— and as an instrument of social change. Here five games that in the last three years have demonstrated that gaming can actually change real world behavior. Read More »

Can games contribute to academic research on land use and forestry?

Diana WeinholdBy Diana Weinhold

Academic research on land use and deforestation generally tries to uncover the underlying reasons for people’s and companies’ actions on the environment. For example, academics may investigate the impact of road building on agricultural expansion, how property rights change land clearing, or how agricultural labor supply affects cropping patterns.

Simulation exercises like SimPachamama (whether or not in a ‘game’ form), however, essentially work like thought experiments – if the world worked like this, what would happen if we did that.  As such, a simulation cannot answer fundamental questions of causality: what caused what. But what they can do is allow us to consider some possible outcomes of complex interactions between all the factors considered important (see Ben Groom’s piece for more information). In other words, given that academic research has found these causal relationships to be important, how would we expect the economy and environment to evolve over time under different policy choices? The outcomes from such an exercise should thus not be considered a scientific forecast, and presenting the simulation as a game is thus useful for framing the results as what they are – a hypothetical outcome from a hypothetical economy, albeit one based on current academic scholarship. Read More »


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