Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Building consensus for ambitious climate action through the World Climate Simulation


Rooney-Varga, Juliette et al. (2022), Building consensus for ambitious climate action through the World Climate Simulation, Dryad, Dataset,


Sociopolitical values are an important driver of climate change beliefs, attitudes, and policy preferences. People with 'individualist-hierarchical' values favor individual freedom, competition, and clearly defined social hierarchies, while communitarian-egalitarians value interdependence and equality across gender, age, heritage, and ethnicity. In the US, individualist-hierarchs generally perceive less risk from climate change and express lower support for actions to mitigate it than communitarian-egalitarians. Exposure to scientific information does little to change these views. Here, we ask if a widely-used experiential simulation, World Climate, can help overcome these barriers. World Climate combines an engaging role-play with an interactive computer model of the climate system. We examine pre- and post-World Climate survey responses from 2,080 participants in the US and use a general linear mixed model approach to analyze interactions among participants' sociopolitical values and gains in climate change knowledge, affect, and intent to take action. As expected, prior to the simulation, participants holding individualist-hierarchical values had lower levels of climate change knowledge, felt less urgency, and expressed lower intent to act than those holding communitarian-egalitarian values. However, individualist-hierarchs made significantly larger gains across all constructs, particularly urgency, than communitarian-egalitarians. Participants' sociopolitical values also shifted: those with individualistic-hierarchical values before the simulation showed a substantial, statistically significant shift toward a communitarian-egalitarian worldview. Simulation-based experiences like World Climate may help reduce polarization and build consensus towards science-based climate action.


Sample and data collection

Our sample consisted of 41 World Climate simulation sessions conducted between September 2015 and February 2020 in the US, with a total of 2,080 participants. These sessions represent diverse educational settings in which World Climate is used, including informal and formal education for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as sessions for educators and other professionals. Participants ranged in age from 14 to 75 years old. They had diverse educational backgrounds and interest in climate change, from no prior education or interest to students or professionals who focus on climate change.

World Climate simulation sessions were conducted as described by Rooney-Varga et al. (2018), with all sessions between 1.5 and 3 hours and held in-person. Facilitators included members of our research team, educators we trained, and educators who learned how to facilitate World Climate using our freely available online resources ( and The simulation is described in detail by Sterman et al. (2014). Briefly, participants take the roles of delegates to the United Nations climate negotiations and are tasked with creating an international agreement that limits global warming to 2 ˚C above preindustrial levels by 2100. They are responsible for decisions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stop deforestation, and support afforestation within their own region or bloc. The role-play includes delegations representing the US, the European Union, other developed countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, and others), China, India, and other developing countries (most South American, African, and Middle Eastern nations). Participants’ decisions are entered into the C-ROADS computer model (Sterman et al., 2012), which provides immediate feedback on expected global climate outcomes, including global temperature rise, ocean acidification, and sea level rise. The facilitator encourages participants to continue their negotiations until the international climate goal is met, assuming time allows.

Survey instruments and data processing

We used a pre-/post-survey design to assess the impact of World Climate on participants’ beliefs and attitudes about climate change and their sociopolitical values. Pre-surveys were administered shortly before each simulation. Post-surveys were administered within a few minutes to several days after the simulation. The period of time between the end of the simulation and the post-survey was kept as short as possible to minimize the potential impact of experiences outside of World Climate. Sessions were held on different dates, ruling out the possibility that any particular external climate-related event influenced pre- to post-survey shifts in participants’ responses across sessions. The surveys are included in full in the supplementary materials and were approved by the institutional review board of the University of Massachusetts Lowell (Protocol 16-049-ROO-XPD). Consent was collected through both written and oral protocols. All participants were informed that the surveys were voluntary, that their responses would be kept confidential, and that their responses would have no impact on their educational status if World Climate was part of an academic program.

Pre- and post-survey items were designed to assess knowledge about climate change causes and impacts, affective response to climate change, and intent to learn and do more to address it (Rooney-Varga et al., 2018), as well as to assess participants’ sociopolitical values (Kahan et al., 2012). Lastly, demographic questions include gender, age, race/ethnicity, highest educational level achieved by participants’ parents/guardians, and self-assessed socioeconomic status. Participants were also asked to respond to open-ended questions about how the simulation affected their understanding of and feelings about climate change.


Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nat Clim Chang, 2(10), 732-735. doi:

Rooney-Varga, J. N., Sterman, J. D., Fracassi, E., Franck, T., Kapmeier, F., Kurker, V., et al. (2018). Combining role-play with interactive simulation to motivate informed climate action: Evidence from the World Climate simulation. PLoS ONE, 13(8), e0202877. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0202877

Sterman, J., Fiddaman, T., Franck, T., Jones, A., McCauley, S., Rice, P., et al. (2012). Climate Interactive: the C-ROADS climate policy model. Syst Dyn Rev, 28(3), 295-305. doi:10.1002/sdr.1474

Sterman, J., Franck, T., Fiddaman, T., Jones, A., McCauley, S., Rice, P., et al. (2014). WORLD CLIMATE: A Role-Play Simulation of Climate Negotiations. Simul Gaming. doi:10.1177/1046878113514935


National Science Foundation, Award: 1701062

National Science Foundation, Award: 1759163