The En-ROADS Forward


The United States of America hasn’t been so divided since the Vietnam War. Name a subject — politics, education, science, healthcare, economics, foreign relations — and people will argue to the point of fury, insisting their view alone is legitimate. While past cultures fortunately survived such polarizations, ours is facing extinction because of climate change, which means we have to find solutions, fast. But how will we achieve that, if we can’t even talk to one another without anger? One online simulation program emerges as a beacon of hope amidst societal polarization, offering a collaborative platform to confront the urgent challenge of climate change with informed decision-making and global participation.

For many young people, the future feels bleak. But last year, while running my Massachusetts youth climate lobby workshop, I encountered an interactive climate policy simulation, co-developed by the Sustainability Initiative at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the non-profit think tank Climate Interactive. My generation, so familiar with Instagram and TikTok, is skeptical that a tech product could “bring people together” in a truly constructive way, but a few weeks working with En-ROADS (Energy Rapid Overview and Decision-Support) told a different story. Its effectiveness begins with an intuitive interface and breakneck speed: users can change a wide range of input factors and get new results within milliseconds. But more importantly, as MIT professor John Sterman, who spearheaded En-ROAD’s development as Co-Director of MIT’s Sloan Sustainability Initiative, emphasized in an email, En-ROADS is based “on the best available science and evidence about climate change, the energy system, and the economy.” Its scientific rigor is key since Dr. Sterman notes that “a great interface for a poor quality model is dangerous, [since] it could enable people to learn incorrect and harmful lessons more effectively than ever before.” Fortunately, En-ROADS remains a leader in climate-scenario “gaming out.” Since its release in 2019, the program has been used at workshops attended by more than 330,000 people in an astounding 163 countries.

I came across En-ROADS in 2023 while presenting a workshop at the Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition’s summit dedicated to raising awareness about global warming and how it can be reduced. We used En-ROADS (which was developed jointly with the D.C. non-profit Climate Interactive) because it allows participants to easily change and calculate the effects of 18 possible climate solutions: planting trees, a carbon tax, electric automobiles, and so on. By moving graphical sliders in the En-ROADS dashboard one invokes thousands of scientifically verified equations that spit out actionable results, allowing the user to determine which paths are viable, which excel, and which are essentially “performative.”

Dr. Sterman compares the program to a flight simulator. “You can’t learn to fly a new jetliner by watching someone else; to learn, one must be at the controls,” he has said in an MIT news release. “People don’t change deeply embedded beliefs and behaviors just because somebody tells them that what they’re doing is harmful and there are better options. People have to learn for themselves.” And with En-ROADS they do, because the program is fun to “play” with, gives immediate results, and invites further refinement — Sterman encourages users to critique the program and suggest new variables as if it were an open-source program. Although En-ROADS can be customized — through workshops and industry-specific parameters — to suit a company’s specific needs, it’s more “process” than “product.” En-ROADS encourages users to look for answers more than efficiencies, to consider the social as well as the business bottom line.

  And that’s important, because as Dr. Sterman has said, “There’s a fundamental alignment between a healthy environment, a healthy society, and a healthy economy… Unfortunately, a lot of businesses still see the issue as a trade-off — if we focus on the environment, it will hurt our bottom line; if we improve working conditions, it will raise our labor costs. That turns out not to be true in many, many cases. But how can we help people understand that fundamental alignment? That’s where simulation models can play a big role… How do you take action? How do you break the idea that if you take action to be more sustainable it will hurt your business, when in fact it’s almost always the other way around?”

The HSBC bank discovered as much when the company ran an En-ROADS simulation for senior managers to brainstorm the implementation of its sustainability goals. Vice President Andrew Greenspan concluded that En-ROADS led employees to feel “more hopeful, less overwhelmed” about climate change — just the sort of reaction that Dr. Sterman and his co-creators hoped for because hope often leads to action. Romance and politics have no place in En-ROAD’s universe; it allows companies to create a vision, and find a way forward, out of a very dark forest.

I saw that while working with En-ROADS as a progressive, climate-change-oriented student. But I saw something more — a tool that embodies possibility, not apocalypse. I love the current emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and community through social responsibility but it often seemed paired with anger, shaming, and resentment, as if business executives and investors were inhuman, amoral, and always wrong. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; instead, we should consider business people as potential allies in the battle against climate change. En-ROADS is a neutral tool that capitalists and environmental activists can wield against a common enemy, and create actionable solutions for an intractable, life-threatening problem.

If you’re ready to turn the tide against climate change and be part of a transformative journey, join me in my En-ROADS game on February 11 at Kemper Auditorium. Let’s unite, learn, and forge actionable solutions together. Together, we can make a real impact on the future of our planet. 🌍 #ActOnClimate #En-ROADStoChange