Gaming to Change the Future – Gathering Materials & Basic Research
This is the first of many articles to come that will, collectively, keep a promise I made several articles ago about bogging extensively on a theory that says games can not only inform of of solutions to seemingly intractable, global-scale problems, but also can be an instrumental part of the solution.
To get started, we need three things, in my estimation. 1) A name. 2) An outline (what we want our game-that-does-not-exist-yet to do), and 3) some research to inform us of the current state of the industry (what’s already being done that we can draw from).
This article will focus on items one and two, saving the research (which is ongoing), and some initial notes about how a game might be structured for later.
With that in mind, I’m going to dub this project B-Space, in honor of a fabulous work of fiction that describes a similar paradigm.
B-Space, mimicking the book’s “D-Space,” which was a descriptor for one or more “layers” of reality that could be selectively laid atop reality itself…the “D” changing to a “B” in honor of a very smart guy (see below).
That dispensed with, we’ll move onto the meat of this installment, which is sorting out what the hell such a “game” would attempt to accomplish, and to that end, I’d like to start with Buckminster Fuller’s essay, “What the World Wants.” (this essay used to be the centerpiece of a web portal called “The World Game Institute,” but the site is now defunct, and copies of this essay are getting increasingly harder to find.
Fortunately, I made a copy several years ago, and will post it here in honor of the man. These then, could be the game’s “starting quests,” and the idea would be that any player could sign up to participate in any number of these, depending on individual player interest (and we’ll get into more of this later, but one of the architectural “must haves” in a game of this sort would be the ability of players to create their own “quests”).
At any rate, here is the elusive (and excellent) Buckminster Fuller essay.
Eliminating Starvation / Feeding Humanity
Preferred State: Abundant supplies of food for 100% of humanity
Problem State: 16 million people dying from starvation; 800 million malnourished
Strategy 1A: International Famine Relief Agency
To eliminate the ad hoc nature in which famines are currently dealt with in the world – usually a terminally late effort that begins well after the onset of the now preventable disease – an International Famine Relief Agency would be developed. Its function would be to both amass a large grain reserve (not unlike in function to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the United States) and to use this food for emergency aid in times when global weather patterns, political conflicts or other disruptions in food supply cause the spectra of famine to rise in some part of the world.
The Famine Relief Agency would be charged with the responsibility and empowered to deal with famine in both the curative and anticipatory mode. An annual budget of $2 billion would fund a Famine Early Warning System; purchase of grain and other food reserves; and shipment, delivery and distribution of food. The amount of food accumulated in reserve would be a function of the severity and extent of famine in the world at any given time. In years of plenty, the reserves would be built up; in years of shortfall and famine, more of the budget would be spent on distribution of food stocks. Both activities-the purchase of grain in times of plenty and the distribution in short-fall years-would act to stabilize world grain prices.
Strategy 1B: Increased Fertilizer Availability
In much of the developing world where starvation and malnutrition are prevalent, crop fertilizers are a luxury that are used mostly on cash crops exported to the developed world. Few farmers in the developing world can afford to use petrochemical-based fertilizers on staple crops sold in the village market because of the high expense and because the prices of these fertilizers fluctuate along with oil prices.
However, through a program to provide farmers in the developing world with simple implements and instruction in their usage, indigenous nitrogen-rich organic material can be used as a source of fertilizer for the neglected staple crops that provide food for the world’s poor.(31) Research has shown that, depending upon the crop, yields can be increased by between 40 and 100% over current levels on farmlands not now receiving fertilizer.(32) Most developing countries use an average of 52% of the fertilizer that is used in developed countries, and their yields per acre are only 74% of those in developed countries.(33) In Africa, the situation is even worse. There, fertilizer use is at 11 kilograms per hectare-compared to 700 kilograms in parts of Europe.(34) Given that this is only about 1.7% of the fertilizer application rates in Europe, it is surprising that yields are 26% of what they are in the US or Europe.(35)
Throughout developing nations, the addition of fertilizer from relatively inexpensive local sources could increase the production of foods for domestic consumption.(36) The fertilizer response curve (i.e., application of fertilizer to crops that have little or no fertilizer increases yields at a much higher rate than applying additional fertilizer to crops already having fertilizer(37)) makes it clear that application of fertilizer at a rate of 50% of that applied in the developed world would result in food production increases of close to 25% and in some instances, such as in Africa where the need is most severe, increases as high as 100% are possible.(38) All hunger-afflicted areas of the world are, at most, between 10 and 33% short in their production of the amount of food that would be needed to make themselves self-sufficient in basic food production.(39)
Additional local production does not guarantee that everyone will receive the food needed to eliminate hunger and malnourishment, but it is a necessary condition for insuring long-term abundance. The addition of 25 to 50% more food in food deficit areas will have a tremendous effect on the availability of food in each food short country.
Strategy 1C: Sustainable Agriculture
Coupling increased fertilizer availability with sustainable agricultural farming methods-such as nutrient cycling, diverse production regimes, minimum tillage, companion-planting, biological pest control, and soil and nutrient conservation-would help guarantee both local abundance and future productivity. In addition to increasing local food production and self-reliance, soil erosion would be decreased, dependence on foreign imports decreased, and resistance to drought and pests increased through the use of locally available organic fertilizers and sustainable agriculture techniques.(40)
The basic farm tools required to tap into local nitrogen sources can be manufactured domestically by any developing country, adding to its industrial production and employment.(41) In addition, the incomes of farmers would rise with their higher productivity, even as their newly enriched croplands become more resistant to soil erosion.
To implement this two-pronged effort in all the food-short areas of the world would involve a very aggressive program for teaching and demonstrating sustainable farming methods to traditional small-scale farmers, coupled with financial incentives and economic safety nets that strongly encourage the switch. Given the costs of agriculture extension programs in the US and elsewhere in the world, the size of the program needed for food-short areas-including an order of magnitude more on-farm extension workers, demonstration farms, education materials, transportation vehicles, communication equipment, tools and support facilities, along with the financial incentives to encourage farmers to learn the new agriculture methods-would cost about $17 billion per year for 10 years- $7 billion for the fertilization program and the $10 billion for the education program.
Costs/Benefits – How Much Is A Human Life Worth?
The International Famine Relief Agency could be funded with 32% of what just the US spends on candy each year. The Increased Fertilizer Availability Program could be funded with just 11% of what Europe, Japan and the US spend on cosmetics. Together, all three programs-famine relief, fertilizer and sustainable agriculture-total $19 billion per year for ten years, which is 2.4% of the world’s total annual military expenditures or 1.9% of the world’s annual expenditures on illegal drugs.(42) This amount is also about 55% of what the people of the US spend on weight loss programs each year.(43) The cost for eliminating starvation and malnutrition in the world is also about 75% of what European governments spend annually on subsidies to their farmers(44) or 38% of what Japanese farmers receive.(45)
The benefits of eliminating starvation, hunger and malnutrition from the world far outweigh the costs. Well nourished people are healthier and more productive members of society. There are lower health-care costs and an economy better able to meet the needs of its citizens. A society without famine, hunger or malnourishment is more economically and politically stable and secure. Ignoring moral imperatives entirely and focusing on just economic factors makes this even more clear. Currently, the US government, for its own cost/benefit analysis for determining the cost to the tax payer of different policy alternatives, has come up with a range of values for the worth of a human life between $750,000 and $2.6 million.(46) This is not as heartless as it may sound. It is the government’s sincere attempt to figure out the actual costs and benefits of policy initiatives. For example, if a new federal safety regulation costs $1 billion to implement and saves 100,000 lives, the overall economic benefit to society, if the value of a human life is placed at $1 million, would be $99 billion; if on the other hand the new regulation costs $10 billion to implement and saves 10 lives, the loss would be over $9 billion.
Using a similar approach and valuation for a human life, it becomes apparent that the world would benefit economically by over $10 trillion per year in just the number of lives saved by implementing the International Famine Relief Agency, Increased Fertilizer Availability Program, and Sustainable Agriculture Program.(47) Adding the reduced health-care costs and increased productivity from a better-fed and healthier population would significantly increase this already astronomical figure.
For the economist who would argue that the value of a starving human in the developing world is somehow not worth the same as that of a US citizen (perhaps because that person would not earn as much in their lifetime as someone in the US or some other exotic argument that attempts to mask the demented racism of such a diminished valuation), it can be pointed out that a valuation of one-half of the lowest figure that the US government puts on the value of a human life still results in a payback on investment in less than 25 hours.(48) Valuing the life saved at only $10,000 results in a net gain of close to $100 billion and a payback on investment in 70 days.
Supplemental reading materials here, and here for what can be done with limited space (would be useful for urban environments). Youtube vid of interest here, which shows what can be accomplished even in the desert.
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