Remix your own U.S. oil policy

Dissatisfied with the Bush administration’s energy policy? Well, you could always try to roll your own. After reading my recent piece on political games, Michael Bean of Forio — a company that makes simulations of complex situations — emailed me the URL for an oil-policy simulator he recently created. You pick a bunch of conservation and fuel-efficiency policies, craft a speech in which the prez announces ‘em, and then it calculates how much your ideas would decrease the U.S.’s oil consumption. Easy, eh?

Except might be surprised how drastically you have to improve fuel efficiency — and how far you have to crank down our thermostats — to make much of a dent in things. I picked a couple of policies sufficiently intense that they would probably be considered politically unfeasable, such as requiring all cars and SUVs to increase their fuel efficiently from 25 MPG from 50. Even so, given the increases in U.S. population and vehicle sales, fuel consumption still went up — albeit less quickly.

This, ultimately, is the brilliance of using game-like simulations to teach people about politics. Because the best way to learn about a complex system is by poking and prodding it. Indeed, that might be the only way to truly internalize something really complex: You have to experience it for yourself. If you’d explained to me, in words, just how hard-core our conservation would have to be to truly reduce oil usage, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But after playing around with the sim for a while I’m kind of stunned into re-appreciating the magnitude of our oil problem.

(Thanks to Michael for pointing this one out!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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