Temporary Expert

Conceptual framework

The Great Acceleration 

A cooperative game that illustrates the sum of our planet’s interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes and how these contribute to an existential risk to life on earth.

What needs to be researched

  • looked into various board games
  • went to a game store
  • settled on the “pandemic” model

What needs to be built 

  • a test model of the game to do play testing

What needs to be tested

  • the mechanic and scenarios of the game during play testing

Material gathering

  • acrylic(markers for the “acceleration”)
  • dice, 3×5 index cards (for various attributes and scenarios)
  • butcher paper(game board)
  • coins or more index cards for money(?)


  • find a printer who can articulate all of the aspects of the game

commit to a final articulation

  • at least two rounds of the game

After some email tag, We were able to work out a time to have a conversation about the paper industry, and Sonoco’s role as a leading company in that industry.

In preparation, Mrs. Rowell sent me an informative sustainability pdf that details all of the things about the varied approaches Sonoco takes toward its environmental impact.

We talked specifically about the sections that I highlighted in the literature, some of the corporate coalitions in which Sonoco participates, specific methods that the company is utilizing to mitigate their impact on CO2 emissions, and products that they offer to clients that lessen impacts on landfill.

To begin with we discussed with we discussed how I came to know about Sonoco and my interest in the company’s practices and how they related to the Great Acceleration.  I stated my concern, and my previous unawareness of the impact that the packaging industry had as a global contributor to The GA.  Laura conceded that the paper industry as a whole had this type of contribution to CO2 emissions and directed me to the recent switch to a more closed loop system that the Sonoco is using to cut their emissions by 65% in the last five years at their Hartsville SC plant and exceeding their global goal of 15% to 24% of greenhouse gas emissions.  They have accomplished this through refitting their energy production from two coal fired boilers to a highly energy efficient biomass cogeneration facility, that utilizes the waste (limbs and stumps) from their sustainable logging used to make their paper.  Thereby not wasting a single bit of the trees they cut down.  Laura pointed out that this was not without cost. The company spent $75 million dollars to do the re-fit. However, the savings to the company in 2014 in electricity cost amount to $8.5 million.  If that number were to continue, the company will recoup its investment in the biomass facility in just short of nine years.

I asked about Sonoco’s sustainable logging operations.  Since I have read in my research that some of these operations generate monoculture forests which exacerbate the biodiversity problem.  She directed me to the literature which points out that the company follows the guidelines of the  Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

The SFI pointed out two areas for improvement though:

“There is an opportunity for improvement to clearly define the criteria for retention of stand-level wildlife habitat elements (SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 4.1.2).
 During recent organizational changes the manager signing the Sustainable Forestry Policy has been replaced. There is an opportunity to update the Sustainable Forestry Policy with the signature of the new top manager (SFI 2015-2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 11.1.1).
These findings do not indicate a current deficiency, but served to alert the Company to areas that could be strengthened or which could merit future attention and Sonoco meets or exceeds the SFI’s standards in all of the other categories including:
“Sonoco Products Company exceeds the requirements for protection of rivers by involving the South Carolina BMP Foresters with buffer delineation along major water corridors (SFI 2015-
2019 Forest Management Standard, Indicator 3.2.1). &
Sonoco Products Company exceeds the requirements for incorporation of conservation of native biological diversity by creating a mosaic of cutting patterns, age class diversity, inclusion of wildlife food plots and day lighting of roads with wildlife plantings.”

Another area where Sonoco has made improvements is with water use in particular.  As one might guess, the paper industry utilizes a large amount of water to make the pulp for the paper.  Sonoco reduced its total water usage by 29% in 2014 and normalized water usage 40% since 2009.

The company also operates robust commercial municipal recycling programs in every market  in which they have production facilities and these programs help to recover 60% of the product that Sonoco produces to be reused in more of their products. Since it is a commercial program it Sonoco gets paid to collect the material that they will recycle and ultimately make into new products.

They use onsite recovery equipment to collect and separate all of the disparate types of materials that they produce and send the metal materials to local metal recycling facilities to divert 95% of their waste away from landfills and leads to further savings in material.

So all of this information makes Sonoco sound like an industry leader in sustainability efforts.  But I wanted to know if they were considering using mycelium as one of their options in their packaging products.  Laura said flatly, “No. Since the weight of mycelium packaging is 3 times the weight of their cardboard packaging, the embodied costs in terms of transport and the corresponding GHG’s make mushrooms a nonstarter for us.”

I haven’t been able to find anything that contradicts this statement yet, but I am still looking so that may be what I have for now.


During my conversation with Laura Rowell, I felt myself outclassed much of the time since she is a Sustainability expert and has been working in this field for corporations for 20+ years.  There was a fair amount of corporate “wording” in the literature that she sent me, which effectively compares Sonoco to itself rather than to the rest of the packaging industry or the metrics of what is good for the environment.  While reading the literature I was reminded of the recent Ricky Gervais commercial for verizon in which he lampoons other company’s for “better coverage than ever claims” .Better than what? Oh, better than themselves a few years ago?  Since the conversation was arranged by a family friend, I meant to keep the conversation light so I was always tempted to shy away from pressing these questions or making the conversation more adversarial.  Maybe it was a missed opportunity.  I am not sure.

It is an interesting dynamic, attempting to be an expert on a topic in such a short period and then trying to talk to a representative of an industry that is implicated as one of the causal factors of the Great Acceleration.  All in all, I think it was a useful exercise in that I was able to find what an industry leader considers as solutions to their contribution to these causal factors.  Big industry companies have an obligation to their shareholders to turn a profit, so sustainability is how they mitigate their potential damage to the environment. But it might be that sustainability is not sustainable.

“The various public discourses on sustainable life, or sustainable development, or sustainable profit are the cultural indicators that the long-standing institutional logic of Capital is being forced to take off its blinders.” – Ron Graziani

Granted Sonoco is a private institution as a corporation, but as members of the public we must ask the “right” questions.  To question that institutional logic of sustainability,  I am not sure I was able to do that in a half hour phone call with someone as adept as Mrs. Rowell or if she is the one to ask those questions of. Maybe I should have been asking the Sustainable Forestry Initiative about their metrics, which Sonoco abides by.  I am not sure.  But I will continue to research the propositions she made and the declarative statements in the literature that Sonoco promotes.



The nation cards, pictured on the left of the board, are the player characters.  Each has its own characteristics, with benefits and challenges specific to each. These cards are The Technological, The BRIC, The Developing, and The Agricultural Subsistance nations

The Summit cards are related to specific global problems that are caused by each planetary boundary, these cards contain the story-line and are meant to educate players on the difficulty of global cooperation and how to encourage that collaboration to achieve solutions to these problems.

The action cards are directly related to each planetary boundary, drawn at the beginning of each players turn these cards are meant to educate the players about the dangers and possible solutions to each planetary boundary.  (I am playing with the idea, that if played by today’s current boundaries there is no way to win the game.)

The striped tabs are the planetary boundaries.  The represent the challenge of time and ramifications of decisions that are made throughout the game.

The failed summit markers represent how difficult it is to have worldwide cooperation when solutions sometimes do not work, or work against the interests of the individual nations, or both.


Update: 4/10/16

I worked through some of the turn cards which sort of provide the storyline, and so far I have two summit crisis cards developed.

Summit Cards Turn Cards

I also have made the illustrator files for the game printing.  I am working from the existing model of the planetary boundaries from anthropocene.info


Game Board

I also have a draft of what the turn cards could look like in, again in keeping with the aesthetic that on anthropocene.info

Turn Cards

At a classmate’s suggestion I checked out the noun project to get some graphic elements to represent the different attributes like money, talent, resources etc

noun_326543_cc noun_30513_cc noun_78393_cc noun_213892_cc

I have drafted the files to cut these attribute pieces on the laser cutter which in the end should look nice.

I tried to cut the pieces today, but I made the files incorrectly to begin with.  So that was a waste of four hours on the laser cutter and more to fix the files themselves.

I have also talked to a printer about pricing and time to get everything printed, so overall I think I am in pretty good shape. I just need to develop some more positive and negative scenarios for both the turn cards and the summit cards.


Update: 4/23

I have made the all of the cards

The Summit Cards are played at the end of each round, and require collaboration to develop design solutions and end in a roll of the dice to see whether or not the solution will work.  Five failed summits and the game is lost.

Summit Card 1 Summit Card 2

The country cards have the corresponding icons for the laser cut icons, that I have finally cut. (Pictures to come.)

These cards determine each player’s attributes and are determined at the beginning of the game by a roll of the dice.

Agricultural Subsistance Country Card BRIC Country Card Developing Country Card Technological Country Card


This is an example of the turn cards I have about 12 of them in total (I think).  Turn cards are drawn by each player at the beginning of their turn.  Some have positive results some have negative results. All of the results have a cascading effect on the game as a whole.

Turn Cards 7

I have laser cut all of the necessary game pieces, and I have at the suggestion of a recent critique reworked the gameboard to better reflect earth rather than space.  I just need to print the board and cards.



Here are some of my ideas for the game that I would like to make as an intervention into the idea of The Great Acceleration.  I wanted to work with the idea of technological leapfrogging, but I thought that my original topic was a little more rich for the idea of a game and that maybe the idea of leapfrogging would be useful as a smaller part of the game.  Like a reward card.   Similar to the cards in the game monopoly, a player would draw the cards under certain circumstances dictated by the run of play on the board.

Technological Solutions Card Example

For a more in depth look into my thinking, here’s a powerpoint.

MidTerm Presentation

This week I narrowed down my subject matter since the topic is so big.


I am trying to focus on technology leapfrogging.  A concept that developing countries can utilized better technologies to leapfrog past the mistakes of the current industrialized world.  ie Cell phones in Africa instead of building a full scale telephony infrastructure.


I thought about maybe making a game as an intervention to illustrate the topic, kind of like chutes and ladders.  You could play as a developing country such as Uganda, with the objective of finding and putting into use a leapfrog technology which would advance you up the board (Cell phones) or laboratory meat production instead of CAFO meat production.  But there may be pitfalls such as trying a technology that requires a lot of research and development and be forced to put an old technology in place as a stop gap measure (textile manufacturing).


It’s just an idea at this point, but what the hey.

Also doing some reading on the Art for the anthropocene I was inspired while thinking of the projects detailed.


Here are some of my ideas



A grown exhibition trees and plants grown into a woven sculpture puts the human audience outside of nature looking in.  Meant to shine a mirror on the how humans see themselves and nature.
Maybe there would be an inner ring and outer ring.  The inner ring would be the “nature” part and the outer ring would be a mirror.  When the audience stands in the middle facing “nature” they are apart form it, and when they face the mirror they become a part of “nature”, as they truly are.


Casting (3d imaging and printing ) of human remnants in and around endangered ecosystems.  Casting of vehicle tracks near sea turtle nests. Four wheeler tracks in yellowstone national forest.


A giant block of lead in a 1 inch pool of water to highlight the presence of heavy metals and industrial waste in Flint Michigan

Coal Ash

A large coal structure placed in a flowing stream to illustrate the damage done to NC waterways by the suspension of EPA regulations and a critique of the McCrory Administration and his relationship with Duke Energy.

Just some ideas I have bouncing around right now.


What does the Great Acceleration mean?  To the World, individuals, continents, countries, humans, animals, the future, the present.  How is it related to planetary boundaries if it is at all?

What is does the US Military think about the great acceleration? What is it doing to prepare for possible security concerns over food insecurity, or peak water?

What effect would a United States effort akin to the WW2 efforts (industrial solutions to help the war effort i.e. meat rations, or entire industries converted to weapons development) tackling these problems have on BRIC countries or other developing nations.

Why do we feel the need to tease out information about climate change rather than other factors related to the great acceleration?  Why not biodiversity, population growth, urbanization, energy use, ocean acidification, real GDP, or water shortage?

Is mushroom technology a replacement for trees in the packaging industry which makes up 50% of the paper industry? What about recycling plastic? Sonoco paper mill?

What is closing the loop and why is it important?

How do we store carbon?

What is embodied impact and how can we know for sure what things have what embodied impact? What role does it play in The Great Acceleration?

I was volunteered to research the topic of “The Great Acceleration”, but after a day or so of doing other research I mis-remembered what the topic was a started a google search on Global Acceleration which yielded some strange results http://www.reconnections.net/gas.htm

Planetary motion making you feel dizzy? I didn’t even know that that was a thing. Surely this wasn’t what I was looking for so I double checked my topic and found this…

 That ‘s more like it.  I had heard of the anthropocene, but the great acceleration?  I am surprised I hadn’t heard anything about it before,  I mean in those terms. THE Great acceleration. And it is THE great acceleration.  At first glance you can look at the graphs and see this crazy 90 degree spike in everything (well mostly everything).  Then I started wondering, is this for real?  Or just some smart person that is extra capable at putting graphs together to great effect.
NO, it’s definitely a thing.
 This website (link) had this great power point and some of the history of how the term of Anthropocene came into being it.
The ‘Great Acceleration’ graphs, originally published in 2004 to show socio-economic and Earth System trends from 1750 to 2000, have now been updated to 2010. In the graphs of socio-economic trends, where the data permit, the activity of the wealthy (OECD) countries, those countries with emerging economies, and the rest of the world have now been differentiated. The dominant feature of the socio-economic trends is that the economic activity of the human enterprise continues to grow at a rapid rate. However, the differentiated graphs clearly show that strong equity issues are masked by considering global aggregates only. Most of the population growth since 1950 has been in the non-OECD world but the world’s economy (GDP), and hence consumption, is still strongly dominated by the OECD world. The Earth System indicators, in general, continued their long-term, post-industrial rise, although a few, such as atmospheric methane concentration and stratospheric ozone loss, showed a slowing or apparent stabilisation over the past decade. The post-1950 acceleration in the Earth System indicators remains clear. Only beyond the mid-20th century is there clear evidence for fundamental shifts in the state and functioning of the Earth System that are beyond the range of variability of the Holocene and driven by human activities. Thus, of all the candidates for a start date for the Anthropocene, the beginning of the Great Acceleration is by far the most convincing from an Earth System science perspective.

This was a real eye opener for me since I thought I was pretty up to date on climate change and global current events.  So I began looking into other information about this concept of The Great Acceleration which led me to this website (which I found to be pretty amazing and well put together as an interactive website with the most horrible news you could ever learn goes).

After finding this site, I had me wondering why these specific indicators were chosen as representative of this potential existential crisis that humans were facing, and then I found this quote.

Other indicators could be added, particularly as new datasets come online. For example, rare earth elements, international trade, steel, Arctic sea-ice loss and renewable energies are possibilities.

Which tells me that this work is still being done, and if it is still being done then maybe there is hope.  Maybe there are possibilities to reverse some of the adverse effects that pose this existential risk to most of life on the planet.  The view was dim but maybe not as dark as I thought.  Perhaps most encouraging about what I am finding on this topic is that the really smart people who are studying this phenomena are looking at it with a holistic approach.  Taking all of this disparate data and putting it together in one place to see a more birds eye view, one that provides a greater context and allows for a look into the possibilities of ways to approach fixing the problems.  I find this is a better approach than looking at tipping points, which leads to a defeatist type attitude to one of the greatest problems humankind has ever faced.  With this approach one can see potential for designing solutions to individual problems like dams, paper production, transportation, or international tourism.  It also points out that global GDP is the highest it has ever been, and with global communication at its highest rate ever we as a world can work together to develop really great design ideas to solve this problems and maybe pull ourselves back from the brink.