The Climatographers started working on climate change in 1988 when Mark Trexler joined the World Resources Institute in Washington DC to work on the first carbon offset project and to carry out some of the first studies of natural climate solutions. Since then the Climatographers have worked with companies, agencies, and NGOs around the world on almost all aspects of climate change, as well as being a part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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As illustrated in the cartoon, over time the Climatographers came to see climate change as an enormous knowledge management challenge. While the information exists to influence almost anyone’s thinking on climate change, many barriers interfere with getting the right “actionable knowledge” to the right person at the right time.

That’s why the Climatographers started building the Climate Web, which today organizes and builds upon the insights and expertise of thousands of climate experts and thought leaders. It is the closest thing today to a collective climate change intelligence.

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It’s also why the Climatographers came up with the idea of Climate Chess in 2015, based on a number of key foundations:

  • The prognosis for avoiding dangerous climate change is grim.

  • While there is a lot of good news when it comes to public opinion and climate change mitigation initiatives, hope is not a strategy, and #greenwishing is unlikely to materially influence climate change outcomes.

  • The climate community could be doing a better job of tackling climate change by taking more advantage of systems thinking as well as wicked problem solving tools and techniques.

  • The climate community needs to get beyond the hundreds of “climate silos” that currently characterize efforts to tackle climate change.

  • Tens of millions of Americans are concerned or alarmed about climate change, but currently have no practical idea of how to influence climate outcomes.

The climate problem is so big that trying to get some kind of a coordinated handle on the problem can seem impossible. But what if "we knew what we know," as suggested in the quote below by Carla O'Dell, a knowledge management pioneer. What if we could take advantage of the fact that the groundwork for everything that's needed to do a better job in tackling climate change already exists, as suggested by Woodrow Wilson?

Digging Deeper into the Origins of Climate Chess

We first used the term Climate Chess in 2015, but the idea goes farther back than that:

  • In 2013, one of the best climate publications of that year was Jonathan Rowson’s A New Agenda on Climate Change. As it happens Jonathan Rowson is also a Chess Grand-Master, and the association of chess and climate change has always stuck with the Climatographers.


  • In 2008, Australian cartoonist Neil Matterson penned a great cartoon depicting a 1,000,000 piece climate change jigsaw puzzle (you’ll see it on a later page). We loved the idea and used it extensively, but could never quite come to terms with how you’re supposed to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know what the final “picture” is supposed to look like. In fact, that was the genesis of the name “Climatographer,” combining climate change and cartography, and referring to the fact that efforts to tackle climate change are complicated by the absence of a map showing the way forward.

  • In the 1983 movie War Games, a military supercomputer named Joshua realizes that, like tic-tac-toe, nuclear war is unwinnable. We think Joshua would have come to the same conclusion if it had been simulating the impacts of climate change. We love the idea that “the only winning move is not to play.” At which point Joshua loses interest and asks his programmer (Professor Falken): “How about a nice game of chess?” Again, the association between wicked problems and chess has always stuck with us.


  • Going back even further is the Climatographer’s interest in science fiction, including in particular Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire series. In the series, the more numerous and evil Eubians are trying to wipe out the Skolians. The only thing preventing that outcome is the “psiberweb,” a galactic communications net powered by the minds of the Skolian royal family. The psiberweb allows Skolian forces to communicate instantly across space, giving the Skolians a real-time picture of everything going, while the Traders are limited to slower communications methods. That “bigger picture” understanding allows the Skolians to keep the Eubians at bay, notwithstanding their vastly superior numbers. The Climatographers have envisioned the Climate Web as a climate change “psiberweb,” allowing Team Urgency to more effectively compete with the more numerous and more powerful Team No-Urgency in playing Climate Chess.