Think in Reverse

Assignment 2: The Bay Game and the interface between natural and cultural systems October 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — clairelester @ 2:46 am

1)                 In my diagram, I focused specifically on the role cattle farming plays in the bay game, since that is the position I was assigned, In the Rappahannock watershed. In order to make the diagram read a little easier I outlined the choices the bay game gave me in blue. The main elements in my system are the cattle, the food fed to the cattle, the cattle’s waste, the meat produced, the nitrogen and phosphorus produced, the profit, and the bay health. The connections are all of the arrows that connect these elements. A few examples are waste that gets pickup up by runoff which leads the runoff to carry the chemicals in this waste to the bay; Or the choice to farm sustainably and therefore make a little less profit that you did previously. The goal of this system is either to make a profit or to help the bay, or to do a little bit of both. For all cycles of the game I farmed sustainably, and covered my cattle’s waste. However, I could have taken a step further in sustainable practices by also buying a device to remove the nutrients in the waste. My goal was to try to both make a profit while helping the bay. I was ultimately successful, with overall a gradually increasing profit.

2)              It was mentioned in class that the way the bay game measures bay health might not be the most accurate approach. In the game, only the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water are stressed as harmful effects on the bay. Before doing more research, I thought that these two things were all that the game took into account when making the bay health charts. I believe a fault in the game is that we’re not informed on more of the harmful effects of each practice and what these do to the bay. I believe more transparency in this aspect of the game would help to make it more understandable and applicable to real life.

I found a great website from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Manure Management and Water Quality that gave additional information about the multiple ways that beef cattle farming can damage water quality and threaten marine life ( A few ways not mentioned in the bay game: life threatening bacteria and other pathogens in cow manure can not only harm certain marine organism but can also make the water unsafe for us to drink, and even touch-causing a greater disconnect between the inhabitants in the watersheds and the bay itself; and also by over grazing and trampling of cows near river and stream banks that can cause erosion problems and also increase the rate at which the harmful chemicals from the manure are washed in.

3)               After playing this game I feel much more strongly about advocating for a healthier Chesapeake Bay. A real world strategy that I believe will improve bay health is by creating strict government regulations on the amount of harmful chemicals each type of development can contribute to the bay. In our most recent discussion section we talked a lot about what it will take to get people to live more sustainably on a global scale. Some thought that awareness would help or even be the solution while others believed that more concrete and enforceable goals had to be set. I think that unless there is a huge breaking point in the bay system that affects the large majority of the population in a negative way, the people must be forced to change. Although we are past breaking point now, most do not see the fragile systems of the bay that way and continue to practice what works economically for them, while continuing to do harm to their environment- a classic example of tragedy of the commons.

These government regulations would have to be put on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus emitted from each development. However, after developing a deeper understanding on other harmful bay practices other regulations, more regulations may need to be included. An example of one of these additions may be a law against the destruction or development of stream and riverbeds, so that natural runoff systems and stream contours are preserved.

Another reason why I think strong regulations are necessary is because in the game we were able to learn about the short-fallings of green incentives and taxes on major nitrogen or phosphorus contributors. An example of this occurred in the game where by leaving your land fallow, you could actually make money. It seemed a little funny that this could happen and although once figured out it seemed a good strategy, in real life this practice gets us nowhere. The goal should be to produce enough of a certain commodity to satisfy human needs, while either continuing or enhancing environmental quality, making the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources, and “sustaining the economic viability of farm operations” (

I believe that this strategy would increase the bays health almost immediately, but would take a while to level out economically. In class the day we couldn’t get the game to work we talked about how if everyone would chose to practice their trades sustainably, that the prices for sustainable food would rapidly decline. This effect is based off of the simple rule of supply and demand, and since all of the new food would be sustainable, then the scarceness of the product would be lost and the price would therefore have to drop. Perhaps to plan for this effect the government regulators could enforce the new laws in small intervals, helping to provide a more gradual transition both environmentally and economically.

In conclusion, we learn from our Meadows reading that in order to stay a healthy system, we have to keep manipulating our goals and strategies along the way. Rather than getting stuck in one zone of existing we have to listen to Donella Meadows when she tells us to stay humble and stay a learner; “What’s appropriate when you’re learning is small steps, constant monitoring, and a willingness to change course as you find out more about where its leading” (Meadows, Pg. 180).

Optional Feedback on Improvements for the Game:

In class it was mentioned that the beef cattle farmer specifically has too few choices on the game. I however appreciated the fact that this position was kept simple and understandable. I don’t think any other choices should be added.  Also, before playing the game I think maybe we should be encouraged to test out different methods of farming, fishing, ect. I was a bit confused from the start on the goal of this game. It was made very clear that we could chose to either get rich or be sustainable or be a certain percentage of either one of these. However, I wish looking back that I had known we would have to write about our individual choices and the very specific effects they would have on the bay health. (Exp. Time lags in our changes taking effect). This would have led me to switch things up rather than to try and stay constant with my (somewhat) sustainable methods as I would have in real life.


2 Responses to “Assignment 2: The Bay Game and the interface between natural and cultural systems”

  1. Tracie C. Says:

    Claire, I thought it was great that you addressed about the necessity of strong regulations. I think it just goes to prove that without the elements of economic vitality and viability, bay health may never be achieved. As long as its possible to make more money by allowing land to deteriorate, its unrealistic to expect habits to change. How is it possible however that by leaving land to fallow the owner of that land can still make money? This is addressed to anyone who could help explain the process.

  2. clairelester Says:

    Tracie, in that case if the crop farmer chose to leave a portion of their land unharvested (so that the soil could recover its nutrients that the crops deplete it of) they discovered they would receive a large sum of money as an incentive. Policy makers who created this incentive could have wanted all farmers to leave a certain percentage of their land fallow each year so that the fields would have time to regroup when necessary, something commonly called “crop rotation.” However, some farmers noticed the extremity of this incentive and discovered that the payment for leaving all of their fields unharvested was enough to sustain their business and make them a profit- possibly not as much of a profit as they would make if they were actually harvesting- but still a profit.

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