Role-play in a climate emergency

Role-playing or roleplaying is the changing of one’s behaviour to assume a role, either unconsciously to fill a social role, or consciously to act out an adopted role. While the Oxford English Dictionary offers a definition of role-playing as “the changing of one’s behaviour to fulfill a social role


Children naturally play and act out things as part of learning but also to amuse and entertain. To have fun. Adults also have fun role-playing in all sorts of ways. It can be between partners and amongst friends or in larger affinity groups. Sometimes it is at an even bigger societal level. I was lucky enough to attend the first car-free day in Paris in 2015, leading up to COP25.

A space was opened up in the heart of Paris by Mayor Anne Hidalgo for Parisians to re-imagine their city. For citizens to play. You could see the wonder of people as they walked and cycled down the Champs-Élysées held yoga group sessions and enjoyed picnics. This avenue would normally be dedicated space for eight lanes of roaring fossil fuel cars, ripping right through the centre of the city.

It was a top down and bottom up collaboration. This was role-play for a climate emergency; I wonder if this set the scene for the more meaningful Paris Agreement?

Role-playing can have a very serious edge, For instance preparing for military operations (war games) But given the extreme national security risks of the climate and ecological emergency, I am surprised how little we make use of roleplay. In essence my One Tonne of Carbon per Year project / blog is a kind of role play. A rapid imperfect prototype for a wider, expanded game.

As an offshoot of this Paris car-free day there are now multiple new creative initiatives on the streets of Paris. Do you want to feel less lonely in the city and get to know your neighbours? Lets bring out chairs and tables onto the street and have lunch together. Parisians are re- discovering their joie de vivre by re-claiming their city public space.

I am a big fan of grass roots role play (facilitated, only if necessary, by Government and other organisations); this is drawing on our collective intelligence.and the ability to play. Opening up the imagination to what might be possible, on the ground. Expanding our understanding and dispelling assumptions or lazy, remote top down thinking This is the mosaic effect. But it doesn’t have to be data led or data rich (which can be reductive). It can be about being in the moment and sharing, telling stories visually and in text.


Very recently (October 2022) I relocated to Oxford. My overriding reason to relocate was to be near my granddaughter and enjoy quality playtime. Yes I am a big kid at heart! And whilst I totally understand the life and death stakes of the climate crisis, I don’t want to become a world weary adult who can’t rise to the challenge with creativity and play. Because it really doesn’t make me an effective campaigner. And also being mostly online is not making the most of my other skills.

I’m such a. newbie to Oxford so I’m still observing.. I have the perspective of the outsider. Which to be fair has some value. But I make mistakes; like underestimating what a flood plain really feels like! Wading amongst the flocks of geese in soggy walking boots. But it feels like an adventure. in an Alice in Wonderland / Philip Pullman landscape. And keeps me on my toes (literally) Big feet have some advantages….

Ask and you will receive

Kids are pretty good at asking for what they want. And initiating play. The social barriers for adults can be more tricky. But if you don’t ask you don’t get. And we have become too good at only asking for what we think we can get away with. I am choosing to ask for what I want with love, honesty and integrity

  1. An Oxford University department dedicated to experimenting and researching (through role play) how we as a community, households and individuals can live the net carbon zero personal lifestyle carbon budget of around one tonne per year. A model of integrity, genuine research and community engagement that other Universities across the world can adopt in their own way to suit their particular communities. Not just addressing the low hanging fruit but asking / facing up to and discussing the more difficult or challenging questions raised by living the net carbon zero lifestyle

2. A public information handbook for every citizen based on Mike Berners-Lee ‘How Bad are Bananas? A Carbon footprint of Everything’ so we can help carbon literacy go mainstream

Note: We cannot leave this to tech giants like Google who are already changing their algorithms-to misinform about the carbon emissions of flights

3. A trusted wikipedia style dictionary of carbon emissions of goods, services, transport options etc to inform global citizens, businesses, Government and other organisations. Updated and scrutinised by experts so to give the best information available. International like wikipedia so appropriate to different regions / countries

A radical transformation of society is unquestionable for all those who love their children, grandchildren, care about humanity and the beautiful multiplicity of life on this planet. The stakes are very high but the rewards are absolutely priceless

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