1869, Ep. 129 with Marianne Krasny, author of In This Together
5:19PM Mar 23, 2023
Welcome to 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast. I'm Jonathan Hall. This episode we speak with Marianne Krasny, author of In This Together: Connecting with Your Community to Combat the Climate Crisis, now available as a paperback ebook, and audiobook. Marianne Krasny is Professor and Director of the Civic Ecology Lab in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at Cornell University. She is the author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of several books, including Civic Ecology, Communicating Climate Change, and Grassroots to Global. You can follow her on Twitter @KrasnyMarianne. We spoke to Marianne about the most impactful things you can do to reduce emissions and fight climate change, how you can scale up your positive impact by inviting friends and family to take action alongside you, and how becoming more climate-friendly can actually add meaning and happiness to your life. Hello, Marianne, welcome to the podcast.
Hi, Jonathan, I'm really excited to be able to talk with you.
Well, I'm really excited as well, your book really speaks to me, it's about climate change what we can do about it. And I know that I'm not alone, in feeling despair, and kind of helpless when I see the headlines coming out with this new book In This Together: Connecting with Your Community to Combat the Climate Crisis. Tell us how this book came to be?
Okay? Well, the truth is that I walk to work every morning, it takes me about an hour and I walk in the dark, because I get up early. And I love to be out in the dark. And what that means is that I think a lot because I'm by myself in the dark. And a lot of times, there's a lot of litter on my way to work. And I feel compelled to pick up the litter. But it just seems like so useless. And I always hope well, maybe some days people stop littering, but they don't. And there's always more litter. And it seems like ridiculous to pick up litter. But, you know, as I'm sort of thinking about it and thinking about it, I'm also thinking about well, it also seems like anything we can do to address climate is also sort of so small, given the scale of the problem, of course, an even bigger problem than literate. So just one day, I thought about the idea of well, maybe we could scale up our action. So it's not just me picking up litter or doing something to address the climate crisis. But I'm also somehow influencing other people to do that. And that way, we could have more impact. And I think my initial thoughts was a few years back, I don't remember all the details was that, you know, I could be or you could be an influencer, right? Like, we see all these people on social media, and they say do something a lot of people do something, do that thing? Well, we'll talk about that a little bit more later. Because that's actually not how the ideas developed.
So the idea of individual action versus collective action, we'll get to that in a second. But there have been some climate activists that say, you know, it's, it's the problem is too big, that collect that individual action is just a tiny drop in a much larger picture. And it's almost pointless there. So tell us this, this idea that some environmentalists are saying, like, we can, that industry can coop that like they did recycling, like, don't worry about what we're doing, it's up to you as an individual to, to solve this. And so then the onus is on the individual versus the actual corporations that are causing the problem in the first place.
Yeah, I think that's true. But so the idea that, you know, and I don't know that industries are doing, they are still doing that they're sort of saying, well, we won't build electric cars, because there's no demand for electric cars, like, you know, consumers want to drive their gas cars. And so unless they change, we won't change. But on the other hand, if you think about this, like how do we change, government, you know, laws, regulations, rules, is really individual action, that just becomes scaled up to a lot of people getting involved. So whether we're thinking about, I don't really want to focus on recycling anymore, that effective inaction. But let's look at some of the more effective ways that I as an individual in my everyday life, could drive down the greenhouse or reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that I'm responsible for. They would be things like eating less meat, or especially beef and sheep. So eating a plant rich diet, reducing food waste, so I can do that as an individual. I can involve my family, you know, my friends, those people around me and doing those things with me, I can invite them over for dinner. But let's just say I'm trying I need to change a policy. Well, what's the most effective way I can, as an individual write a letter to Congress, or to maybe a business. But I can also do that as part of a group. And I think the most effective way to do that is through volunteering. So right now, I'm volunteering for several organizations. And we can talk about that if you're interested. But I'll just mention, one of them is climate action now. And it's essentially an app. And it's geo located. So if I put in my zip code, I can read, there's a lot of options like they're sort of like car do, you kind of, you know, flip through. And so it's a like, write a letter to your congressman about supporting food donation programs in the Farm Bill, if I click on that, there's a letter, I can edit it, but I probably won't. And then I just press enter, and it automatically goes to my Congress person, my senator or my house representatives, because it has the app has my zip code. So I can write that letter. I'm an individual, right, it's not going to have much impact. But because a lot of people are using the app, and I volunteer, and some of my students have volunteered as content creators for the app. In other words, we write these letters, where we're still, in some sense, scaling up our actions, just as I get more people to reduce their personal lifestyle emissions through eating less meat or reducing food waste.
Fantastic. I like that Climate Action Now. Okay, I'm going to get that
Just download it on your phone.
It's on my phone. That's how convenient is that? So you, you had mentioned eating less meat? And, you know, there's the idea of electric vehicles, what there there are plenty of websites and books and 50 things you can do to reduce your your impact and reduce climate change. What would you say are for you, in your research, what are the most impactful things we can do as individuals, and then we'll talk about scaling it up?
Well, I use the drawdown.org website. I don't know if you've been to it, but it has a list of I think 82 or 84, climate solutions. And you can order them according to their potential for drawing down greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So if you order them, this is why I mentioned plant rich diet and reducing food waste those almost always, depending on you know, how the science is done in the priorities come up near the top, usually in the top five. So that those are impactful. Recycling, I can't even remember if it's on there. But you know, it'd be way down, even LED light bulbs is quite a bit down further down than things related to our food system, then there's, of course, there's a lot of actions that you can't really take as an individual. So there's one called health and, or I think they changed it now to family planning and education. So the idea is supporting women in particular, to be able to choose the family size that they want. So that one is very important, I think in terms of thinking about climate, and also about individual rights, human rights. But, you know, there's not a lot of opportunities for me to maybe go out and do that in my everyday life, I might volunteer for an organization, but I can also donate to organizations. So one that my students have donated to, and that I've joined their network to donate to, is called Femme International. And what they do is they work with women in developing countries who don't have access to menstrual supplies. So if you can't, if you don't have access to menstrual supplies, you often have to stop going to school, and you can't get a job, right, because you have blood all over your clothes. So kind of a, you know, really hard thing for us to think about since it's not something we see in everyday life. But this organization found international supplies, the mental supplies to women in developing countries so that they can keep going to school, and work. And so that's just an example of an impactful action that we can take through donations, rather than through lifestyle. It's something we do in our everyday life. And then there's lots of others like refrigerant management, you know, forest restoration, of course, all the ones having to do with a renewable energy sector. And again, those may be donations, like to an organization working in forest restoration, or tree planting, but also actions like writing letters to policymakers, like I mentioned with climate action now.
Great, great, this is all great information. So these are the things that we can do as an individual, but they also connect and as you said, kind of scale up our activities. You had in the book, you mentioned how we can harness the power of the collective with with a term that you call network climate action. Tell us more about this.
Yeah. Well, earlier I mentioned influencers, right? And so the whole idea is influence, like I'm some person, I'm gonna put something on social media and zillions of people will do what I say, well, there are some influencers, but I don't think, no, no, I don't mean to insult you or anything, but probably you're not much on. And I'm not one, right. I'm not famous. Also, I think when we think about what behaviors are influencing, they might not be difficult behaviors, right? Like changing your diet is kind of hard, but might convince you to go out and buy, you know, some sort of Gucci pocket book or something like that. So So consumer activities that pretty good at. So I started researching this, and there's two authors that are particularly important, although they aren't the only ones ones Damon Centola at the University of Pennsylvania, who has written books about how behaviors spread. And the others here at Cornell, Robert Frank, who's also looked at sort of how behaviors spread. So one of Frank's more famous examples is solar panels. And they've done work looking at solar panels in different neighborhoods. And if one person puts a panel on the roof, other people are likely to follow, right, so these solar panels and their current kind of clusters and neighborhoods rather randomly distributed. So this is about influencing people in our neighborhood. Sentosa is more not so much the spatial influence that Frank has, of course, Frank talks about other kinds of influence, too, like, we influence by our smoking behaviors, we influence our friends and our friends, friends, is another example. But if we think of climate behaviors, the same thing sort of implies, like, if I want a friend or somebody I know to reduce their meat consumption, then it's going to work better if I'm kind of close to that person. So we maybe have meals together once in a while. And it's also going to work better if my friends are their friends. So in other words, the message is going to getting communicated multiple times or multiple messengers is not just one time from somebody who's really famous going out there to zillions of people is what they call these clusters or lattice networks, where people are closely connected, that means they're talking to each other, seeing each other relatively frequently. And they're a cluster of people who, again, you know, if I invite my close friends over for a meal and as a plant rich diet, then that message that they get might be reinforced by not just me, but by the other person who came to that dinner. So that's idea of network climate action is that you think about who are your networks, your close family and friends, and you take action within that network, you realize that your influence is most on those you're close to?
That makes sense. Yeah, that you're not going to be you don't have a YouTube channel that you're going to be broadcasting out, but just having an impact on the individuals in your life. So the one thing that you brought up in the book, there's this is a quote that you had, as evidence suggests that if you want to influence others, it might be better to admit that you were struggling and not doing everything, rather than to be perceived as an annoying, do gooder. Tell us more about that.
Well, that's this idea of moral rebels, right? So I mean, I'll give you an example of I tried to do my own network climate action. And my network was my colleagues in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at Cornell. So I first started with this kind of influencer idea, I just tell them and you know, we're all sort of interested in the environment, it's a natural resource environment department. And then they would just sort of do this action, which happened to be buying offsets to offset our air travel because we travel for work, right? So and that, of course, produces a lot of emissions. So that first part of thinking that I was just going to influence everybody by sending out an email didn't work. And then at some faculty meetings, I got some really bad pushback, like, Oh, this is ridiculous, like, this is going to do nothing. Like, you know, how are we going to reduce air, travel or whatever. And, you know, I think people thought I was lecturing to them, and, you know, being this sort of goody two shoes and making them feel guilty. And so the whole idea is to be transparent about your own struggles. That, oh, I've, you know, I'm really trying to reduce my air travel, but my family is super important to me. And you know, my kids live in Europe. And so I'm going to travel to keep my family together and do things with my children. You know, and you could probably think of other examples of How you can instead of saying, Oh, you I can't believe you flew down to the Bahamas yesterday, you know, that was like, ridiculous waste of resources. So to say, you know, that's great. Did you have a good time? You know, did you think about maybe working with a finger like Climate Fund? I've been working with them, because they have this great program where you can pay a little bit of money that is equal to the amount of emissions or reflects, I should say, the amount of emissions that that trip to the Bahamas took. And then that money is donated to low income people to weatherize their homes. So, you know, and I've tried to do this a little bit. It's hard, I don't do it for every travel that I do, but you might want to think about it. It's a super great organization, because we can help the low income people living near us, and still enjoy travel.
That's smart. But I can see that working rather than saying, Why didn't you reduce your plane travel or anything like that? Basically, yeah, take making it a personal thing and saying, I struggle with the same issue when I have to travel. But then you had mentioned this the is it the Fingerlakes Climate Fund? Yeah, I mean, that's such a great idea. But then, yeah, leading by example, but not being kind of a goody goody. Or like, people, then people that might feel like shame or guilt about like, Oh, I'm not doing the right thing. We're all trying our best, but we're not we're all human to speaking of speaking of feeling, and I mentioned this in the beginning, and you mentioned in your book, you have this quote from scholar, Robin Kimmerer. And it really rang true to me. But here's the quote, "Despair is paralysis, it robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth. Environmental Despair is a poison." So I think a lot of us are feeling environmental despair, was we're seeing the headlines we're experiencing. Now again, this could just be a freak winter, we've had like a mild winter, we've seen environmental degradation around the world. What are your words of advice for people that do see the headlines or feel sad about seeing the the changes that are happening on the planet? And what is your advice to counteract the despair?
Yeah, so let's just imagine that you're a black person, and you're living in the South in the US and the 1950s. I mean, you might not have any hope at all, that things could change, right. But we know that people came together, and they built these networks, and they took action. And they really changed American society. And I think that importantly, along the way, they lives also gained meaning for themselves. And they turn despair into action. So I would say there are two reasons to take action, even if, you know, we may not succeed, right, they didn't know that they would succeed in changing the way America society operates. But, you know, I don't think they would have wanted to lose the fight without trying. And I don't think we want to lose the climate fight without trying, we still might be able to turn this around. Certainly a lot of scientists are saying that we can still turn this around. And we're seeing promising signs of transitions to clean energy. For example, we've seen the government starting to act over this last year in the US. And we're seeing a lot of innovation around energy and even food systems with alternative proteins. So that's one reason you don't want to lose the fight without trying, we may succeed. Second, I think that taking action can make our own lives better. My students and I, we've really enjoyed cooking plant based meals for our friends and family is a way to connect with family and particularly for my students, but also just do fun things with their friends, and even doing fundraisers. You know, for that organization, Femme International that I mentioned, I have students do do fundraisers, they showed a movie called Period. End of Sentence., which is about this issue of women and menstrual supply. So you know, and, you know, with climate action now app we can even do we do action parties where everybody takes actions together. So it can even be fun writing letters to Congress, we often think about climate action as a sacrifice, oh, you know, they're gonna take away your gas car or whatever. But you know, electric cars, I think, eventually gonna be a lot cheaper to operate, right? We don't have to have so many repairs. So and it can be fun. It can be enjoyable if you do things with people that you enjoy doing things with. And that can also add meaning to your life. So I just add one last bit of advice, and that is that if you want to do something, choose something that really works for you. If you have kids at home, you might not have that much time to volunteer But you could work on say reducing your family's food waste or cooking new recipes with less meat. If you have time to volunteer like I do, but you get bored with one volunteer position, then switch to a new one that's more meaningful for you. So the point is, you're not going to be able to sustain something, doing something different, or doing something for the climate, if it's not really fitting into your lifestyle, and what you're passionate about and what you enjoy doing. But there's plenty of actions, I think that each of us can take and can take with family and friends that will really enjoy and it will add meaning to our life, and maybe we'll win the fight.
Excellent. Excellent. Well, that's great advice and great insights. You had mentioned in the book, there's a Japanese word, and I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing it, right. Ikigai is that correct?
I have no idea how to pronounce it.
But it was a Japanese word for purpose in life or life worth living. And you said, one of the examples would be, you know, taking care of grandchildren or volunteering or keeping the streets clean and pretty. And you tie that into taking environmental action, that, that that just taking action of some sort, whether as you said reducing food waste, or having more plant based diet, to volunteering to using the climate action now app, all these little things can help reduce the despair and make a life worth living so so it sounds like a win win by doing things that are positive for the environment, your also puts you in a more positive emotional space to carry on and as you said, hopefully we'll win this fight together. So I am so glad that you wrote this book. I'm so glad to be able to talk to you about this, your new book in this together, connecting with the community to combat the climate crisis. Thank you so much, Marianne.
Thank you, Jonathan. It's been a pleasure.
Same here, take care. That was Marian Krasny, author of Marianne Krasny, author of In This Together: Connecting with Your Community to Combat the Climate Crisis, now available as a paperback ebook and audiobook. The audiobook can be purchased from iTunes, Amazon and Audible, as well as the Blackstone site downpour.com. If you'd like to purchase Marion's new book in paperback or ebook, use the promo code 09POD to save 30% on our website: cornell press.cornell.edu. If you live in the UK, use the discount code CSANNOUNCE and visit the website combined academic.co.uk. Thank you for listening to 1869, The Cornell University Press Podcast