Reflections on "The China Dream"
The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota launched the magazine and lecture series Ensia earlier this year. Earlier this week, Energy Challenge Coordinator Emma Shriver and Program Assistant Anna Jursik attended an Ensia Live event featuring Peggy Liu, co-founder of the Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE). Her lecture highlighted efforts to reframe the idea of prosperity to China’s middle class, promoting a "China Dream" that equates the good life with relationships, opportunities, and health. This would reduce consumption and lowering overall energy demand. In this post, Emma and Anna share their thoughts on the presentation, behavior change, and sustainability storytelling.
Why did you decide to attend this event?
My educational background is in global environmental studies, and advertisements for the lecture described JUCCCE’s work as interdisciplinary and collaborative. Sold!
My interests lie with behavior change and environmental marketing so the topic of Peggy Liu’s presentation sounded right up my alley. Also, I really enjoyed a couple of the same presentations I went to last year through the Institute on the Environment.
What were the most interesting things that you learned?
JUCCCE makes a consistent effort to integrate sustainable behaviors into existing social structures and cultural norms: one example was including traditional Chinese medicine in conversations about healthy eating habits and sustainable food production. I was also fascinated by how their programs "curate" a mix of leaders and influencers from the public and private sectors, with expertise ranging from finance to marketing to renewable energy.
My mind opened up to how much China is doing for environmental efforts. Unfortunately in American media you don’t hear much about the innovation and projects China is trying to help combat their pollution. It also amazed me the speed at which they get new projects up and running and the open mindedness surrounding trying new and innovative ideas.
Did you notice any strategies or topics that relate to your work at CEE?
New technologies and big data aren’t enough to drive clean energy. Liu emphasized that we need storytellers to make sense of information, guide decision-making, and appeal to the human side of things. Many Innovation Exchange initiatives, including our upcoming Art as Energy public art project, approach energy from an interdisciplinary perspective. We apply strategies from design, marketing, and behavioral psychology to try to influence how people and communities use energy.
In Peggy’s project she is currently working on called the "China Dream," a big focus is changing language from technical to relatable. What she talked about reaffirmed the relatable and casual way we talk to the public, and specifically homeowners about energy and energy use. It is important for us that the communities we work with are not intimidated or discouraged to participate in energy conservation, just because they cannot understand what is being said!
Did the event give you new perspective on a familiar subject?
I noted the direct relationship between energy and public health. She used fine particulate matter to describe the air quality. I recognized "PM2.5" as a metric from CEE’s secondhand smoke research, but the pollutant levels on smoky Minneapolis bar patios doesn’t come close to everyday conditions in Beijing, China. Liu said flat-out that this pollution comes from factories fueled by Western consumption. It's easy to forget that energy as an input of consumer products when you’re not breathing industrial pollution day-to-day.
I was surprised of how much of a problem the idea of the "America Dream" is causing globally. From China’s perspective they have been told, "okay the earth cannot sustain us all living the American Dream”. And the question Chinese ask is, "well what dream should aspire to?" That's where Peggy’s project the China Dream comes in. China has to make their own sustainable, and healthy dream. That idea opened my mind to their point of view on that issue.
Which questions did you walk away with?
China can implement new policies at a larger scale and faster pace than the United States. Liu said we need collaboration, innovation, and efficient systems to design and run environmental initiatives. I wonder which of JUCCCE’s techniques we could apply under our form of government, and at which levels?
I asked a similar question as Anna. How can we try and take all this innovation and large, country-wide marketing campaigns and apply them here? I am a little afraid of the answer...