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Network Climate Action: the power of individuals in groups

By Xiuli Zhang, Original Chinese article available from Forbes China

English translation edited by Marianne Krasny

Climate change is no longer an unfamiliar term in China. It is appearing more and more frequently in China ’s social media search lists. But this does not mean that Chinese citizens ’awareness of climate change is high. In China, controversy always accompanies climate change. The most famous controversy is 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The Chinese public and media interest in her personally shadows concern about what she is doing for our climate. Unlike in the West, the Chinese public does not like her. They believe that Thunberg’s personal influence exceed her abilities. Simply put, she is overrated. In China, where "actions speak louder than words," her actions such as strikes and public speaking arouse resentment among the Chinese.

Greta Thunberg’s behavior is relatively common in the West, and there is a term called "activist" to describe people like her. In fact, activists are common in Chinese daily lives. As long as you use your abilities and influence to promote something in a certain field, you can be considered an activist in this field. The influence of each individual should not be underestimated. True, Greta Thunberg is unusual. She grew from an ordinary student to a world-renowned climate activist and influenced thousands of people in less than a year. This "popular" approach is rare, yet it indirectly proves that anyone may be a kind of fire. It's just that in terms of climate change, we who have long embraced the concept of "economy first" still have difficulty understanding the importance of the environment. Climate change is an international trend. If Chinese people, especially Chinese young people, can understand and participate in climate solutions earlier, then China is very likely to play a leading role in addressing the climate crisis. And the beginning of all this may be just for every individual who seems to be "insignificant," to take a climate action… and try to persuade their family and friends to also take that action.

Marianne Krasny, a tenured professor at Cornell University, recently proposed the concept of “Network Climate Action,” to capture the idea that individuals can use social influence research to spread climate action through their friend, family, colleague, and online social networks. For example, Fatima Delgado in Spain chose “plant-rich diet” as a climate action and invited a group of friends to attend a Sustainable Tapas brunch in her home. She and other students in Cornell’s online Network Climate Action courses found that by organizing plant-rich meals and other Drawdown climate actions, and inviting a small group of friends to participate several times, friends would adopt her behavior. In short, network climate action is scaling up the impact of your individual climate actions by influencing others. If the friends of Fatima Delgado are also keen to hold Sustainable Tapas parties, they in turn will influence the people in their own circles. Therefore, one person’s influence can expand rapidly.

Participants of the Third Sustainable Tapas event, held in Nov.the 23th, 2019, Barcelona, Spain

In 2019, the Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab created the Cornell Climate Online Fellowship and this spring, they launched the Network Climate Action: Scaling up your Impact online course. Through these efforts, climate activists around the world learn, share, and ultimately take a local action in their network. The projects promote climate action by emphasizing students' practical ability and influence. Based on Cornell’s research about the impact of the fellowship and online course, their approaches may provide a model for future online climate education and action.

The strength of each individual cannot be underestimated, and the sparks of the stars can also be ignited. In fact, China's climate practice is far from ideal. Changing it requires policy support, technical assistance, and the actions of every citizen on our planet.


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