The challenge of modeling

CIM-EARTH is an open model for studying the socio-economic dimensions of climate change and climate policies. 

Yet, it is impossible to solve climate change alone in a vacuum.  The effects on economic growth and human prosperity must be assessed and considered in the solution.  And what we do know is that economic growth fundamentally depends on energy usage, and that usage must increase many times over if the developing world is to advance out of poverty.

Furthermore, the problem of climate change is complicated by the fact that it is inherently a global one: governments, industries, and individuals worldwide are linked in a single energy system whose emissions then affect climate throughout the world.


Addressing climate change while simultaneously satisfying future needs for energy is thus a three-part challenge:

  • Economic challenge in developing the appropriate incentives and mandates to achieve an optimal pathway for climate and economy;
  • Technological challenge in changing the means of energy capture/generation, usage, or carbon dioxide emissions management; and
  • Political challenge in achieving action within countries, and also cooperation between, and joint action by, numerous sovereign bodies.

CIM-EARTH is a framework in which to combine the best of modern computational and economic science to guide climate and energy policy, with an organizational structure based on the best practices of collaborative science. CIM-EARTH will also benefit from three key and complimentary technical advances that have taken place in the last five to ten years. Specifically, CIM-EARTH will leverage: 

  • Many-thousand-fold increase in computing power (with complementary state-of-the-art numerical methods) that gives us latitude to make many improvements on current models;
  • More realistic modeling of economic behavior, including planning and investment (necessary for representing the massive capital investments in power plants, transmission lines, and other energy infrastructure) and responses to climate change itself; and
  • Open-source code and community-based organization, inspired by the 15-year success of the Community Climate System Model, which has become a bedrock tool in climate studies and has set a standard for transparency in the field.

We decided to make CIM-EARTH an open model so that it invigorates and broadens discussion for both developers and users.  More broadly, because CIM-EARTH will be readily available and reproducible, it will be useable by decisions makers from a variety of organizations.  Examples of users and the types of questions that they will be able to answer include: 

  • Electric sector executives planning power generation in the face of multiple federal and state emissions reduction and renewable portfolio standards, all affecting electricity generation and transmission costs.
  • Budget offices attempting to forecast changes in tax revenue and outlay under emissions standards, and weighing the effect of differing assumptions about technological change in electricity generation.
  • State legislators considering distributional effects of energy policy, and planning for subsidies for the poor whose heating bills rise.
  • International negotiators faced with a developing country balking at joining an agreement. What would be the consequences on American industry of that non-participation? What would be the consequences of punitive border taxes? What subsidies or payments would compensate for the cost of participation, and how could reluctant delegates be persuaded that the offer was to their advantage.
  • Manufacturing industries attempting to forecast the changing economic landscape (e.g., energy, material, and labor costs) for themselves and their competitors, to determine investment decisions
  • Federal legislators attempting to craft emissions schedules that balance economic pain against ecosystem adaptations, and that take into account risks and nonlinearities in each.
  • Farming groups and startup technology companies weighing the long-term potential of biofuels and investment decisions in biofuels production and research decisions dependent on projected prices for carbon emissions taxes or permits, fertilizer, fuel, and labor, as well as climate change, competition from international imports, and advances in processing technology.