Civilization Has Helped Me Feel Slightly Less Terrible About Climate Change

Civilization Has Helped Me Feel Slightly Less Terrible About Climate Change

A large part of my day involves sitting on Twitter watching news break, and so a large part of my day is spent surrounded by people justifiably freaking out over climate change news. It’s depressing as hell, but help has come in the last month from the most unlikely of places: Civilization 6.

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The game’s latest expansion, Gathering Storm, has as its centrepiece a system where humanity’s impact on the planet is reflected on the map itself. As CO2 levels rise ” a direct result of your land clearances and factories ” the polar ice caps melt and flood coastal regions, while the number of dangerous weather events increases dramatically.

Where Civ 6 goes further than reality is that I can play past the current era and into the future. It’s a future where, yes, some bad shit has happened. Sea levels have risen, millions have been displaced. What’s interesting about what comes next is that I’m given the tools to try to fight back.

Image Welp.

Once a Civ 6 game hits around the present day (it’s always approximate depending on what you’ve researched first), future tech research unlocks a number of improvements and city upgrades designed to counter or even halt the effects of climate change. You can send builders out into the world to transform desert tiles into solar farms, or construct massive wind turbines off the coast.

Seasteads provide fresh sources of housing under the waves (BioShock has taught us nothing), and dams ” once simply useful as a means of saving your cities from flooding ” can be transformed into hydro plants.

Basically, you’re out there doin’ stuff. Reading report after report in 2019 about the eroding state of our planet is in part so depressing because it makes us feel so helpless. It can feel like the actions of one person, one community or even one nation just aren’t enough, especially when some of the most important global players, like the presidents of the United States and Brazil, aren’t just “not helping” but are actively working against environmental concerns.

At least in Civ 6 there’s brief, personal solace to be had in rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. And that work goes beyond just tending to your personal affairs; the expansion’s new World Congress allows for global climate accords where, rather than a bunch of nations just putting names on paper and hoping for the best, rewards are handed out to the civilisations most engaged in saving the planet, encouraging the participation of all.

These technological and diplomatic measures are of course far from perfect, even simply as representations of a critical issue inside a video game. Climate change is a bolted-on addition to Civilization 6, not its main thrust, and so here as in reality it’s not given the attention and focus it deserves, as its causes and effects are still taking a relative back seat to regular Civ pressures.

The idea that science will save us simply through its own advancement, something Civilization has always preached (especially with its “flee a dying Earth and all will be well!” science victory), is also a little off. Offshore wind farms aren’t going to do a damn thing if diplomatic and economic systems ” ones far more radical than those Civ 6 presents us with ” capable of prying us away from our dependency on fossil fuels and grazing space aren’t there to back them up. We need far more comprehensive change than some token climate accords.

The one area where climate change’s implementation in Gathering Storm might be perfect, in a very grim sense, is in its timing. I don’t know if this is an accident or a wonderfully subtle piece of developer commentary, but in all of my playthroughs the technology needed to save the human race always arrives a little too late.

Image In addition to rising sea levels, climate change is also reflected in Civilization VI by an increase in devastating storms.

Every time, no matter which civilisation I’m playing as, who I’m up against and how many climate accords are signed, by the time green tech is being rolled out by the majority of players, huge swathes of the planet’s coastline are already underwater. It’s as though I’m trapped in a nightmare ecological Groundhog Day.

So despite the promise of salvation (or at least management), there’s no utopia to be had here, no alternate reality where we’re unable to undo the mistakes of our current world and enjoy a more sustainable existence on another. In Gathering Storm things always go bad, and all that’s left for us to do is mitigate the effects to the best of our abilities.

Which isn’t much, but it’s something. Given the present alternatives, I’ll take any tiny grain of optimism I can. Being put in charge of an attempted solution to climate issues, even in an abstract fictional one like this, is a refreshing change from letting increasingly bad news wash over me like, well, a rising tide.

This article was originally published on 20/2/19.


  • I guess that gives me another excuse to start taking over the world before the climate catastrophe gets too bad.

  • Terrible as climate change is and will be, it’s still kinda cool to see it reflected in a video game.

    But I think the biggest take away from all this is in that first paragraph. Twitter is bad for mental health, just say no!

  • Your forgetting the main thing effecting climate change, Politicians.
    We could easily spend a couple of years budget building all those things like we do in any civ game. And actually make a difference rather than just trying to stay in power.
    But they are too worried they lose office when they fix problems so never fix anything and you never lose power.

    Human greed at its best

  • Tragedy of the Commons. Look it up. Global climate equals the Commons. Humans are never going to come together to stop climate change. Trump, China, Brazil, India, Adani Coal mine etc etc etc. My advice is don’t live in a low lying coastal area or a flood plain. I would say start preparing yourself and our kids and grandkids for a world that is 8 degrees hotter but I have no idea how to do that.

    • that becuase it doesnt need to happen, your worryed about nothing the things that they say are changing have been changin long before we got here.

      • The overwhelming consensus (97%+) of climate scientists is that anthropogenic climate change is happening, far beyond natural ebb and flow. There’s more consensus for this than almost any other scientific concept that exists today – over 200 scientific organisations across hundreds of countries assert that modern climate change has been caused by human action, including the US National Academy of Sciences and NASA, the Australian Academy of Science and Bureau of Meteorology, the Japanese Science Council, the European Science Foundation, the British Royal Meteorological Society, and many more.

        Critically, the things that have been changing have not been changing in this way long before we got here. We are conclusively responsible for the rapid acceleration of these changes in the two centuries.

      • the things that they say are changing have been changin long before we got here.

        This is true – but there weren’t 7 billion people trying to live on the planet at the time.

        We passed the point where life will be able to continue the way it did in the past in around 1990. The last time greenhouse gas levels were where they are now was in the Pliocene, where sea levels were about 20m higher than they are right now and the planet was basically split between rainforest all the way North to the Arctic and large plots of desert.

        If we were to stop generating greenhouse gases _right now_, we’re looking at huge die-offs and a Mad Max-style dystopia for about the two million years that it’ll take for things to normalise. Maybe a few million people will be around to see 2250, maybe not.

        @Maxtrax is right. The planet will be absolutely fine. This has happened before and things will rebound eventually. Given time. And on a geological scale, what’s a few million years between friends? Earth will still be whizzing around the sun, safe and sound and finding a natural balance.

        It’s just the humans that won’t.

      • You clearly misunderstand what scientists are saying.

        We are not saying that we caused climate change. What is being said is that we have sped the process up artificially with our excess production of carbon dioxide increasing the greenhouse effect.

        Stop getting your information from Andrew Bolt.

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