Warming Trends: Video Gamers Helping the Climate, a Big Advance for Lab-Grown Meat and Belabored Decisions May Bring Better Results, If Not More Happiness

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

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Video gamers play at the 24th Electronic Expo, or E3 2018, in Los Angeles, California on June 12, 2018. Credit: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Video gamers play at the 24th Electronic Expo, or E3 2018, in Los Angeles, California on June 12, 2018. Credit: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

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Gaming the Climate

About 3 billion people around the world play video games, the digital content creation company Unity estimates. With such a huge population playing them, should video game designers be incorporating messaging about climate change into their products? A new survey suggests that it’s a huge opportunity. 

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in partnership with Unity surveyed more than 2,000 video game players in the United States and found that their views on climate change largely align with the general American population—73 percent of video game players say global warming is happening and 56 percent agree it is caused by human activity. But they also found that video gamers are more willing to take action on climate change, like contacting government officials or participating in a campaign. 

“Video gamers represent this really untapped or under-explored audience for potential activism on climate change,” said Jennifer Carman, a researcher at the Yale program and co-author on a report that analyzed the survey’s findings. 


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Another result from the survey showed that 22 percent of video gamers say they have seen climate change-related content in video games that they’ve played or watched on a video game stream, and 13 percent said they had taken action after seeing that content. 

Carman said she was completely surprised by this finding. The survey did not ask where, specifically, people were seeing climate content in video games. 

She hopes these findings will inspire video game creators to make climate change part of their games and for climate activists to utilize games to reach people with their messaging. 

“Especially for people in the climate movement, I think this kind of busts the stereotype of video gamers as white men who don’t care about anything but games, especially because so many young people who also care about climate also play video games,” Carman said. “I think that this is a potentially really fruitful avenue for future research and engagement and advocacy on climate change.”


Podcast Finds Talking About Big, Planetary Problems Fosters Optimism

Donnie and Chris Stemp are bringing weekly climate news updates, big-idea conversations and brotherly humor in their new podcast, The Week on Earth. 

With episodes out now on toilet paper and climate communication, and upcoming deep dives into recycling and super-polluting refrigerants (stay tuned for an appearance by Inside Climate News’ own Phil McKenna), the brothers want to bring urgency and optimism to a topic that requires widespread and immediate attention. 

ICN recently discussed the podcast with Donnie and Chris. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

When did climate change come on your radar?

Donnie: ​​It’s something I’ve thought about since I was a kid. And as the problem gets bigger and bigger, I wasn’t seeing it reflected in culture as much. Obviously, the reporting is getting stronger, but it’s still not breaking through culturally. If I could have, I would have started a weekly TV show, but a podcast was easier. I think communication is the missing link right now in climate. I mean the scientists know what to do. The politicians maybe are starting to listen, but the general public is still not really on board. And I think it’s something, there’s something in the communication of it that we haven’t cracked.

How are you tackling that communication issue in your podcast? 

Chris: I’m always thinking about the listener’s perspective, why would they spend 30, 40 minutes with us? I think our time investment is one of the biggest things we care about as people. So I’m always thinking, is this going to interest them enough? I think too much of the climate change discussion is based on the science of it, and the detail of it, and of course, that matters. But as we’ve seen more and more, I think people’s tolerance for detail and research and unfortunately facts and logic is declining. So we thought this is a way to bring compelling relatable stories almost like a Trojan horse to tackle an enormous, if not the most enormous issue we’ve ever faced.

Brothers Donnie (left) and Chris (right) Stemp have started a new climate podcast. Photo Courtesy of The Week on Earth

What’s something new you learned from this project?

Donnie: Something that surprised me in talking to people who are working in climate is the feeling; the optimism they have once they’re involved in any way. And I’ve felt that more just since starting this. Paying attention makes me more determined and more hopeful rather than more depressed. And that was somewhat intuitive, but it’s still surprising that almost everyone I talked to, no matter how grueling their jobs are or how difficult it is for them to reach people, as long as they’re doing something, they’re feeling positive about it.

What do you hope listeners take away?

Chris: I want people to recognize it’s here. And it is like, actively impacting almost every aspect of our lives. And I think people still tie it to things like the weather, but not to things like massive weather events, or catastrophic hurricanes or droughts or fires or electric grid issues or just like inflation, energy inflation. So by doing these different stories, I want them to recognize like, ‘Oh, we’re living in it.’ And that it’s not a foregone conclusion that we have to lose. There is plenty of optimism.


Tiny Particles Provide a Big Step for Lab-Grown Meat

A new innovation, lab-grown meat technology, just took a big step toward scaling up its development, researchers say. An alternative to slaughtered meat, lab-grown meat could be a solution to global climate and food scarcity problems.

Lab-grown meat, or cultured meat, is seeded from cells taken from the muscle of a living animal and then placed in a bioreactor—a chamber where the cells have all the nutrients they need to multiply and form muscle, or meat, outside of the animal’s body.

University of California, Los Angeles food scientist Amy Rowat and her team engineered edible microcarriers, tiny, novel particles made with food-grade ingredients that are used as scaffoldings for cultured meat to grow on inside of the bioreactor. Prior technology that served as this kind of scaffolding was not edible and had to be removed later in the process.

“There’s exciting potential to be able to explore how we can tune these edible particles to speed up the growth of cells. Our results showed some indication that there might be some faster growth of cells using these edible microcarriers,” Rowat said. “I think any advances in the efficiency of production could make huge differences once you scale up to much larger volumes of production.”

The final product that Rowat’s team created resembles ground beef. But, she hopes that the edible microcarriers can be a step toward developing cultured meat that resembles the texture of a cut of steak.

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Lab-grown meat is seen as a potential alternative to animal agriculture, which contributes to more than 14 percent of global greenhouse emissions. But, commercial development of lab-grown meat has been limited by cost and technological shortcomings. Rowat said this innovation is also a step toward overcoming some of these challenges.

“Our scaffold, in the form of these edible microcarriers, are compatible with the bioreactor and provide that surface for the cells to grab onto,” Rowat said. “So we think it’s going to be important for the texture of the meat and certainly it’s important for how efficiently the cells can grow in this bioreactor context.”


Long-Considered Decisions May Bring Better Results, Even With Less Satisfaction

Scientists who study marketing and consumer behavior have long believed that people who make decisions about purchases quickly are often happier with their decisions than those who take a long time to consider their choices. But, new research finds that the tendency to take longer may be better for the planet. 

Researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied a group of consumers that they put into two categories of decision-making: those who are “satisficers,” meaning they tend to choose the first viable option they come across, and those who are “maximizers,” meaning that they will consider the pros and cons of all their options before selecting which option is the best. 

Participants were given a suite of subscription options for a daily joke or fun fact on a website. After participants made their decision, researchers spent a month monitoring how often participants visited the website to see the daily content and utilize the subscription they selected. They found that the maximizers made more use of the subscription than the satisficers. 

“What surprised us was even though maximizers are notoriously less than perfectly satisfied with what they pick, they were the very people that used our service more,” said study co-author Sam Maglio, associate professor of marketing and psychology at Toronto. 

Maglio said that because maximizers invest more time into making their decisions, they are more inclined to make the most out of the products they selected. 

Although the decision-making scenario in Maglio’s study didn’t directly relate to an environmental issue, he believes these findings can be extrapolated to other consumer products that do affect the environment, like fast fashion. Satisficers may be more inclined to purchase a clothing item that quickly satisfies their needs, but may only wear that item a few times before it is out of fashion or worn out. Maximizers may take their time selecting an item that is durable and timeless. Maglio recommends that people who tend to be satisficers try adopting the tendencies of maximizers to reduce their environmental impact through these kinds of decisions. 

“There’s nothing stopping us from giving a decision a little more time, a little more energy,” Maglio said. “And my study would suggest that even if we force ourselves into this kind of approach, we should see the same benefits of getting more—to put on my economist hat—more utility from our products in the long term.”

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