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Meet CliO! A virtual green pet who responds with your low-carbon lifestyle choices.



Before the dawn of iPhones and apps, remember there was a much simpler time in the age of electronics when analog ran supreme and digital black and white devices were the latest technological breakthrough? Remember being a kid in the 1990s and complaining that your parents wouldn’t buy you a hamster? And just like that - Bandai, a Japanese toy-making and electronics company, seemed to answer your prayers and come up with the next best thing - a digital, virtual pet called Tamagotchi.

Tamagotchi came in the form of a pre-programmed pet that could hang conveniently from a keychain or a jacket zipper.  Once hatched, Tamagotchi could be one of several things - a dinosaur, an alien, or virtually any variety of virtual creature. It then became your job to make sure your Tamagotchi was fed and had a clean environment in which to pace back and forth all day.  If you neglected Tamagotchi’s needs, however, you might stumble upon a sad reality of Tamagotchi passing on to greener electronic pastures.  But not to despair, a hard restart and you could hatch a Tamagotchi 2 and start the beautiful circle of life over again.

Of course, like all things Furby and Tickle Me Elmo, Tamagotchi soon rode out its popularity to become a thing of the past (although now apparently there’s a Tamagotchi app).  But this doesn’t mean that we don’t all feel a twinge of nostalgia and wonder what if ...

We, a group of students and recent graduates of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, have therefore sought to re-envision and re-create a virtual pet that encourages folks of all ages to take more low-carbon, environmentally-positive actions in their daily lives with a new gaming app called CliO - Climate Organism: a virtual pet who responds with low-carbon lifestyle. choices.


Category of the action

Changing public perceptions on climate change

What actions do you propose?

Why Games?
With prospects grim for a meaningful global climate deal in the near future, climate change has now transformed into a “super wicked” environmental policy problem.  Levin et al. (2010) contend that climate change extends beyond Rittel and Webber’s (1973) initial conceptualization of a “wicked” policy problem due to four key features: time is urgent and running out; the central authority needed to address it is weak or non-existent; those who cause the problem also seek to create a solution; and hyperbolic discounting occurs that pushes responses irrationally into the future. These features are primarily responsible for the feedback loops that have created swells in public support for climate change action but at the same time intractable policy positions at the global level.

Recent polls of Americans suggest that although extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy that ravaged the Eastern U.S. in October 2012 did raise climate change in the conscience of many Americans, three in 10 still believe that the President and Congress should place global warming as a low priority. How then, can we shift public perception of climate change and encourage citizens to take action in their everyday lives to make a difference?

Social and participatory games have recently emerged as a way of understanding the multifaceted forces complicating effective policy solutions, as well as to galvanize action based on improved learning and understanding provided through games (Franklin, et. al., 2003; Klopfer, 2008; and Petranek, 1992). The Department of Defense created simulation training software for combat exercises and in military operation planning (NRC, 1997). In the healthcare arena, the Markle Foundation partnered with popular SimCity developer Maxis to create a simulation game called SimHealth, which created an interactive, virtual model of the U.S. healthcare system (WWICS, 2001).  A few years ago, the United Nations developed “Food Force” – the first humanitarian video game to teach children about the logistical challenges of delivering aid during humanitarian crises (WFP, 2005).

What the growing popularity of these games suggests is that new and innovative alternatives to educate, understand, and communicate “super wicked” environmental problems and solutions are in demand. When applied to the environment, achievement-related values, such as those that can be derived through games and virtual play, can influence real-world behaviors and actions (Mirosa et al., 2011). Therefore, we believe a simple gaming app that incentivizes users in a fun way to take more climate-friendly actions to gain rewards through CliO’s growth, reactions, and “happiness” will encourage people of all ages to make daily behavioral changes.

Plus, games are fun!

Meet CliO
CliO is a virtual green pet who responds positively to the user taking actions to make his/her everyday life more climate- and environmentally-friendly. The user takes real life actions, which in turn correspond to five categories of activities for CliO: food, sleep, school, exercise, and fun.  

Click on the video below to meet CliO and see what your climate and environmentally-positive actions can do to make CliO a happy pet.

Video by Omar Malik, MEM ‘13, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

What climate-friendly actions make CliO happy?
There are five categories of activities that you can take to grow CliO into a happy, climate-friendly pet.

Clio will be fed when human users record taking any of the following actions in real life:

- Recycling: Recycling is important because it saves resources, energy, and water. Over 75% of waste is recyclable, but only about 30% is actually recycled. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod. Recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two whole weeks. If every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we could save about 25 million trees each year ( 2013). Recycling also reduces the amount of material we have to consign to crowded landfills.

- Swap, donate, or recycle clothes instead of throwing them away: The typical American discards about 68 pounds of used clothing a year.  Swapping, donating, or recycling your used clothing helps the environment by keeping materials out of landfills. With so much garbage already crowding landfills, donating your used items is one easy way to do your part to help the environment (Brito 2013). This behavior also reduces the amount of new products purchased by consumers, which is important since the production of clothing involves significant quantities of water, energy, and other resources whose use impacts the environment and climate.

- Electronics recycling: Our increasingly digital lives means growing quantities of electronic waste (e-waste). Recycling raw materials from end-of-life electronics is a practical solution to this problem. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials that could be recovered for future uses. By dismantling end-of-life electronics and providing reuse options, extraction of natural resources and pollution caused by inappropriate and possibly hazardous disposal is avoided. Additionally, recycling reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacturing of new products (Phoenix Electronics Recycling, 2013).

- “Meatless” day: Skipping meat on a day when you would normally eat meat can help reduce your carbon footprint and save resources like water. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, which is far more than emissions generated from transportation. Annual worldwide demand for meat continues to grow, so reducing meat consumption can help slow the worldwide growing demand for meat and this growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the water and inputs required to raise livestock are tremendous and far greater than those needed to produce vegetables or grains.  An estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef.  In contrast, soy tofu produced in California requires 220 gallons of water per pound (Meatless Monday, 2013).  Avoiding meat consumption once a week will help reduce the amount of water we use, in addition to mitigating climate change. 

If you’re already a vegetarian, you can have the option of doing a “dairy free” day.  Producing dairy products often involves converting land to produce animal feed, water pollution, and the release of methane emissions from cows’ digestive processes (World Wildlife Fund, 2013).

- Bring reusable bags to the supermarket or bring lunch/snack to school or work in a reusable bag: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year. Of those, approximately 100 billion are plastic shopping bags (, 2013). The production of plastic bags consume millions of gallons of oil that could be used for fuel and heating. As litter, discarded plastic bags foul the landscape, and kill thousands of marine mammals every year that mistake the floating bags for food. Plastic bags that get buried in landfills may take up to 1,000 years to break down, and in the process they disintegrate into tiny toxic particles that contaminate soil and water.  

Clio will enjoy having necessary rest and restoration time while electronic devices are off. The following activities ensure a peaceful sleep for CliO.   

- Turn off electronic devices: CliO is happy that greenhouse gas emissions are avoided when electronic devices are turned off. Turning off electronic devices and letting CliO sleep also provides an opportunity for human users to play away from a screen with a friend, family member, pet, or alone.  

- Unplug electronics: Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off because of the fact that they are still plugged in. These "phantom" loads occur when people do not unplug most appliances that use electricity, such as DVD players, televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. This can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and turning off the whole strip when not in use (US DOE, 2008).

CliO expands his mind and has fun by learning about climate change, Earth systems, and impacts of society on the planet through educational games and activities.

- Multiple choice quizzes: Users will be asked questions about climate change, Earth systems, or society and the environment.  Answering questions correctly will lead to CliO becoming smarter, bigger, and happier. Scoring well on quizzes will also unlock new activities of quizzes and games.

- Lessons: CliO will teach the human user about important environmental concepts through mini-lectures and the help of videos and guest speakers (including Bill Nye the Science Guy, if he agrees).

- Share a green tip with a friend: To encourage CliO users to share their environmental learning with other people, CliO will respond favorably when human users indicate that they have shared an environmental tip with a friend. 

CliO enjoys traveling around town without depending on fossil fuels. The greater distance traveled by bicycle, walking or by public transportation, the happier CliO will be.

- Biking or  walking: Compared to driving, biking or walking greatly decreases a person’s carbon footprint, helps clear the air of smog-forming pollutants and is also a good exercise. CliO encourages users to talk to their parents about walking or biking more often, and will connect users to resources provided by their city and advocacy organizations to promote safe cycling.    

- Commuting and car pooling: Compared to individual driving, public transportation and carpooling decrease greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, alleviates traffic congestion, reduces demand for gasoline and helps improve air quality and noise.  

- Educational games: CliO users will be able to choose from a range of educational games which cultivate an environmental ethic in addition to providing subject knowledge on related topics.  Games will include simulations of cleaning up oil spills, turning off lights in an empty house or office, planting gardens, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, revitalizing urban brownfields, recycling bottles, and installing new bike lanes. 

- Jokes: CliO has a terrific sense of humor, and will teach users some environmentally-themed jokes to try on their friends and family.

How will CliO ensure that actions are actually being taken?

We’re glad you asked.  To prevent “gaming” CliO, players can earn extra points for documenting their actions.  If users take pictures of their recycling or donated clothes, veggie meals, or reusable shopping bags and upload them to the app, they will get extra points.  If a friend who also records actions in the CliO vouches that you took the bus with them instead of your car, or decided to carpool, you can also earn extra points. These photos could be shared via Instagram, Flickr or another photo-sharing app to create interactive, visual displays of low-carbon climate actions being taken around the world.

How will we sustain play and use of the CliO app?

We envision CliO to be a social learning game like Duolingo, where a leaderboard keeps track of how you and friends you “follow” are scoring.  Users would also have the option of linking their CliO pet and score to their Facebook account so that friends and networks can see how you are doing in terms of making green and environmentally-friendly choices.  CliO could also be integrated into an educational curriculum for kids: kids could compete with each other in the classroom and report back about their learning with the app.

Who will take these actions?

CliO is for all ages; however, we designed CliO to appeal most to players aged 4 - 14 and their parents.

Where will these actions be taken?

Anywhere and everywhere, in all aspects of daily life!

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

What are other key benefits?

Consumers, of all ages, but especially children and young adults, will learn about climate change and low-carbon lifestyle choices. CliO will empower young people to understand the carbon implications of everyday choices they make in their own lives.  With the failure of nation-states to negotiate a global deal on climate change that encompasses all major emitting countries and the absence of any national climate legislation in the United States, youth are increasingly becoming disillusioned with top-down policy solutions.  Therefore, the CliO app will allow users to record actions they are taking in their daily lives to reduce their individual footprint on the global climate. 

We envision in the future, every person will proudly display their CliO scores and happiness levels on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagrams, and other social media pages to challenge their peers to make more low-carbon lifestyle choices. 

What are the proposal’s costs?

App Development - $25,000

Marketing and Advertisement - $5,000

Web Hosting - $2,000

The long-term vision is to link CliO with green product providers or services that will support CliO and offer discounts or promotions to users of CliO.  For example, a certain number of points or happiness levels for CliO in a given week might result in coupons or discounts to organic food markets or for sustainable products.


Time line

Related proposals

References (2013).  "Paper, Plastic, or Something Better?"

Brito, W. (2013).  "The Value of Donating Used Clothing." (2013). "11 Facts About Recycling."  

Franklin, S. et al (2003) “Non traditional interventions to stimulate discussion: the use of games and puzzles”, Journal of Biological Education, Volume 37 (2): 79-84

Klopfer, E. (2008) “Augmented learning: research & design of mobile educational games”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Levin, K. et al (2009) Playing it forward: path dependency, progressive incrementalism, and the “Super Wicked” problem of global climate change, IOP Conf. Series: Earth & Environmental Science 6 502002

Meatless Monday (2013). "Why Meatless?"

Mirosa, M. et al (2011). “Linking Personal Values to Energy-Efficient Behaviors in the Home.”  Environment & Behavior.

Petranek, C. et al (1992). “Three levels of learning in simulations: participating, debriefing and journal writing”, Simulation and gaming, Vol 23 No 2:172-185

Phoenix Electronics Recycling (2013). "Why and How: Electronics Recycling."  

Rittel, H.W.J., Webber, M.M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, Policy Sci. 4 (2): 155–169.

US Dep't of Energy (2008). "Tips: Home Office & Electronics."

Woodrow Wilson Int'l Center for Scholars (2001) “Serious Games: Improving policy through game - based learning and simulations”, Foresight and governance project, publication 2002-1

World Food Program WFP (2005) “Food Force: The First Humanitarian Video Game”,

World Wildlife Fund (2013). "Dairy: Overview."