Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Climate Solutions Lab

Simulation: Return to the Isle of Ted

Northwestern University in Qatar

Political Science


Prof. Jocelyn Sage Mitchell

Undergraduate lecture


As part of an interdisciplinary course on climate change, I modified and developed a classic political science simulation, "Isle of Ted," to teach students about the collective action problems associated with climate change. The full simulation, including supplementary materials, has been published in PS: Political Science and Politics (53:3, July 2020) and is open-access, at this link: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096519002221. The simulation is for instructors who want to do an in-class activity with their students about the difficulties of solving climate change. The article explains how to run the in-class activity and gives ideas for discussion. The activity is fun—in groups, the students pretend they are on an island and they have to make decisions each round about whether to build roads for trading, send boats out for fishing, and spend points on defense from attacking pirates. The simulation takes about an hour to run. After the activity is over, the discussion helps to connect the game to the concepts and theory of collective action and how it relates to climate change. In sum, the in-class simulation brings the concepts and theory of collective action to life for the students. By personally experiencing the difficulties of working together to manage their island resources, students better understand why it is so difficult to find solutions to global climate change.