You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2008.

at the New Yorker Conference \If you want to get a solid picture of what World Without Oil signified to the world, listen to WWO’s participation architect, Jane McGonigal, at the New Yorker conference earlier this month, “Stories from the Near Future.”

What Jane’s saying is that games have turned a corner from Escapism to Engagement (not just WWO, but it’s perhaps the most potent example) and… well, she tells it way better than I do, so check out the vid.

photo by Michallon via FlickrThanks, John Thackara, for alerting me to the City Eco Lab being planned for November, in st. Etienne, France. City Eco Lab are “design steps to a one-planet economy”: by demonstrating a full range of projects that rethink a city’s consumption of fuel, food, energy, water, etc., CEL moves the focus beyond an individual’s choices to the systems that citizens depend on for their livelihood. It’s a really great idea and one that should be extended to cities in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Is it possible, however, that an oil crisis will strike St. Etienne even as the City Eco Lab gets underway? And citizens of St. Etienne will be phoning in reports live as the crisis progresses? It’s certainly possible, given the current state of fuel protests spreading like wildfire across Europe. And it’s possible in a WWO sense too (and maybe you can help). Stay tuned.  Photo of St. Etienne tram by Michallon via Flickr

by Robert WhitlockSo said Peter Carroll, a representative for the trucking industry in the UK, about fuel prices, shortly after he parked his big rig on the A40, closing that major artery into London. The blockades are beginning again in Europe, in a manner prescient of the Petrol Wars of 2000, which pretty much shut down France and the UK at that time.

The problem is this: ordinary citizens can adapt to rising fuel costs by using transit or cutting back miles driven. But truckers, fishermen etc. have no such elasticity to their lives, and now that diesel is near $10 a gallon they’re not about to suffer alone.

Which brings up the question: when can we expect renewed blockades and truckers’ strikes in the US, where truckers are similarly stretched past the breaking point? Expect no warning, as these events, loosely organized by CB and cell phone, are classic flashmobs.

Photo by Robert Whitlock via Flickr

Above the fold in the Business section of the Washington Post yesterday: a story by Steve Mufson about Arjun Murti, the Goldman Sachs oil analyst who’s been nailing future oil prices. Murti and Jeffrey Currie, a commodity analyst, raised their short-term forecast for crude oil to $141 a barrel and confirmed their earlier prediction that oil will have a super-spike – $150-200 a barrel – in the next two years. Mufson notes this is the fifth time in four years that GS has pushed the envelope beyond what other analysts thought possible, only to be proved right. “Can Murti continue his streak?” the article wonders, as if Murti were shooting free throws or something.

Meanwhile, top story on the front page, an article about how the jump in ridership threatens to “overwhelm” area transit in DC. And this from Blueski, a WWO player: “living here in Vermont – where we have either minimal or no mass transit options and home heating is a major need – the prices are scaring people a lot – this winter is going to be tough going I’d say…….. am starting to see the rows of pickups, SUV’s etc parked out on the lawns with “for sale” signs on them as I wrote about in my game blog…..” Folks, this was not a game.

Mervin Jarman with trophy and Challenge emceesIt’s impossible really to communicate how inspiring it was to be in the august Stockholm City Hall and receive the full-on Nobel Prize treatment, but maybe this picture of Mervin Jarman, one of the Education winners for his excellent Container Project, gives you some idea. You can find a full list if the winning projects here.

World Without Oil did very well in the Challenge, bringing home a Special Mention (i.e., it was a runner-up) in the Environment category. The Environment winner is the World Weather Information Service, a global source for free, updated weather information based  in Hong Kong. A vitally necessary service indeed in a food-challenged, climate-changed world.

(Below: The Stockholm City Choir serenading the diners. We are in the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall, the same room where Nobelists meet and present their awards.)

at the Stockholm Challenge Awards Dinner 2008

The Stockholm Challenge has brought together people using information technology for civic purposes from all over the globe. Naturally we’ve been networking like mad. In this quick video, the finalists in attendance from the Environment category list their partnership needs. Anybody know of a potential resource?

As seen in SwedenEverywhere I go in Sweden, I see messages about energy. Car ads list fuel types first, car names second. Car magazines splash “Diesel Sport!” on the cover. New buildings have huge banners on them touting their green designs.

Even the toilets have their message. I encountered one that has a Stop button – stop flushing, that is. Another had a dual flush button – one for a big flush, one for a small. Which may seem puzzling for a country that doesn’t have much of a water problem, until I remembered that moving water around is one of the prime energy drain (so to speak). Back in California, it is the state’s single biggest energy use, for example.

The Tunnelbana – the subway – works like a dream. It’s pleasant to ride and efficient. And it’s growing: the land around my hotel is all torn up for a new spur line to be added.

The thing is, Sweden has a plan – it wants to wean itself off petroenergy by 2015. And the first step is to make efficiency a priority. This bus advertisement (at right) really summed up the attitude: whereas in the US it would probably read “Get more X for less money!” here in Sweden it reads “Get more X for less energy!”  That is a profoundly different mindset, and one that the World Without Oil game is helping to promote.

photo by bogers via FlickrI’m traveling, slowly making my way to Stockholm for Stockholm Challenge Week next week, noting the irony as gallon after gallon of petroenergy turns to vapor in my wake. Looking for something to do to while away the hours while our fully loaded plane sits idling on the tarmac for hours, I look in the seat pocket for a magazine – nothing.

So I find a flight attendant and ask her if there are any extra issues, and she says no, they get one per pocket these days and nothing more. Any other magazines? No, they were the first frill to go, she tells me, way back in 2001. I make some sort of sympathetic noise, about how it must be tough to try to do her job with less and less, and now with oil prices rising so fast, and suddenly her guard goes down and I see how terrified she is. She practically grips my arm.

She knows that soon she is going to lose her job.

The thing is, I know this too. It’s right out of World Without Oil. If only she had played the game, I can’t help thinking, she would at least be more ready for this, might feel less alone. She and OrganizedChaos might have really bonded. As it is, all I can do is tell her not to worry, I’ll scrounge up my own magazine.

(photo by bogers via Flickr)

Gathering Information Technology ideas from around the world

Here’s a map showing the home locations of the finalists in the 2008 Stockholm Challenge. There are some great ideas and great works going on all over the globe, and I’m looking forward to meeting some of them in Stockholm next week and exchanging some knowledge.

Plus: Corrina McFarlane (Bodi Lane in WWO) pinged me on Saturday, which was Pangea Day – an exciting day of global connection. She’s collected reader comments on her blog.

May 10, 2008

People surging into cars in a transit stationThis just in from Jane McGonigal (otherwise known as mPathyTest) who’s in New York for the Stories From The Near Future conference: an article in the New York Times titled “Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders To Mass Transit.” Apparently, gas prices are motivating people to take transit in record numbers, catching transit planners by surprise. “Nobody believed that people would actually give up their cars to ride public transportation,” says the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. “The whole NYT article reads like a KalWithoutOil report,” Jane says.

The biggest surges are occurring in metro areas in the South and West – the very strongholds of American driving culture. The article says Denver ridership is up 8%, for example, and several routes now run at capacity at rush hour.

Now this is no surprise to WWO players. Player Ararejul explicated this very situation in her video posted from Denver, titled “Is Public Transportation Ready?” Posted over a year ago, I might add. “This was the first thing our players predicted and documented when gas hit $4 a gallon,” Jane notes. “Dude, WWO seriously worked as a forecasting device.” One that looked not to the past for answers, nor to experts, but to the future and the collective imagination.

Photo by caribb via Flickr.

….possible within two years, says Sachs Goldman via Bloomberg and widely reported. Folks, less than a year ago “$200 a barrel” was shorthand for catastrophe. Witness our fellow simulation, OilShockwave, which in September 2007 posited a global geopolitical crisis precipitated by oil at $150 a barrel.

Here they are again: real-life headlines that look as though they come right out of World Without Oil. I don’t want to see headlines like these. The question is: is the WWO game helping people adjust to the new economic reality they describe? And – is the game helping to create other realities as well?

Recent Headlines Ripped from WWO

James Howard Kunstler on the Colbert Report.The Colbert Report takes on James Howard Kunstler, who is the John the Baptist figure of peak oil – a voice that’s been crying in the wilderness for a long time, that is. For all the talk about Kunstler’s new book, “World Made By Hand – A Novel,” nobody seems to be talking about it as a fictional work – as with the World Without Oil game, it’s a veneer of fiction painted on a cold hard potential reality. Watch the Colbert report segment.

photo by Lex in the City, via Flickr. Thanks Lex!An article by John Wilen in the Business section today talks about how airlines are slowing down to save fuel. Meanwhile, Gary Richards, our local reporter on commute and traffic, advises his readers to stop whining about fuel prices and slow down – by his calculation, dropping one’s speed from 75 to 60 mph is like paying 30 cents less per gallon at the pump.

These articles bring out another finding of the World Without Oil game – that oil = speed. Americans consume an inordinate amount of oil largely because we don’t like to wait – for the bus or the train, for example, or for that cool new weight machine we ordered online. 747s fly everywhere loaded with cargo that could be sent vastly more efficiently by boat or train.

But of course, paradoxically, we also don’t like to be forced to rush all the bloody time. WWO people were quick to pick up on this silver lining to the dark cloud. Here, listen as Avantgame explains it in a phone call from Berkeley – recorded during Week 17 of the Oil Crisis of 2007. Or download the MP3:

The Upside to Slowing Down, by Avantgame

Photo by Lex in the City via Flickr.

Character icons from the WWO game.The World Without Oil game centered on a website (www.worldwithoutoil.org, now archived here) which gathered all the in-game ideas and expressions of the players. In the fiction of the game, the website had been put together by eight (eventually, 14) ordinary citizens who had reason to believe the oil crisis was coming. They called themselves the 8TSOC (8 To Save Our Country).

Like the game itself, the 8TSOC characters were fiction but just barely. WWO’s gamemasters (“puppetmasters”) played them, but for the most part they were alternate realities of who we are (or might have been). Like the game itself, they come across as pretty real.

So it’s fascinating, a year later, to read these characters’ Manifestos – the characters’ thoughts as the reality of the oil crisis loomed larger and larger. Take a moment and check them out.

(To learn who in real life played each character, go here and scroll down to Puppetmasters.)

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.