Photo: Translating words into action: engaging Canada's ethnic communities in the fight against climate change

The Chinese language of climate change and sustainability can be a lot more colorful and active than its English equivalent (Credit: Global Chinese Press)

By Winnie Hwo, Climate Change Campaigner

A Vancouver columnist recently asserted the view that the Chinese language lacks a climate change vocabulary, and as a result, it's difficult to engage new Canadians into adopting a green lifestyle.

I disagree.

Part of my job here at the Foundation is to help translate the language of climate change into Chinese language articles and publications. I've found the Chinese language of climate change and sustainability is often a lot more colorful and active than its English equivalent.

Take the English word "sustainable" as an example. It tends to lack movement, and implies that people will stay where they are and continue to do what they have always done. But "sustainable" in Chinese is translated into 可持續發展 which literally means 'development that can be continued'. The Chinese translation of sustainable is arguably a lot more exciting and active because it implies moving forward as well as embracing continuity.

"Solar panel" is 太陽能電池板 — literally, 'solar power energy pool panel'. "Wind power" is 風力發電 — or 'wind power generate energy'.

"Carbon footprint" in Chinese is 碳足跡 which means exactly the same as in English. But it is also graphic in the Chinese language because you can literally see the footprint in "carbon" — black color, the color of coal.

The phrase "renewable energy" is translated as: 再生能源 or 'energy that is reborn'. How creative it is to describe a non-conventional, non-fossil-fuel energy source as a newborn?

As a mother, I immediately want to protect and nurture this new source of energy as my own child. Imagine how much more support clean and renewable energy would receive around the world if we all thought of it that way. There are several other examples I can give, but the important thing to understand is that all the ways we translate the language of climate change are well-used terms by Chinese in Canada, China and around the world.

This brings me to the other aspect of my job: Engaging new Canadians to take action and become a part of the fight against climate change. There is no doubt "public engagement" is the in-thing to do right now. No matter which way you turn, someone is talking about engaging the public. If the last federal election is any indication, engaging ethnic Canadians is definitely a must-do these days for any organization whether public, private and non profit.

There is no doubt that how effectively you engage with the ethnic public often hinges on language. The common questions climate campaigners frequently ask are — how do we engage the public without first beginning a dialogue? How do we begin a dialogue if we do not have a common language?

Since beginning my work here, I have learned that climate language is becoming increasingly rich in both English and Chinese. And when I say they are rich, I do not only mean in words, but also the ways in which the ideas are expressed. A film-maker friend of mine who has been tracking the green movement in China recently visited Vancouver. She shared with me the fabulous green movements that are taking place in China. For example, the Green Long March is a project involving 5,000 youth from 80 universities across China that promotes environmental awareness and action on campuses and in communities, as well as the Red Hot Green China project produced by Green Dragon Media.

I think the most important thing to remember when engaging with ethnic communities is to not make any assumptions; putting aside ideas that Chinese Canadians have no green/climate language would be a very beneficial first move. Who knows, we might find the "dragon" is a lot bigger and greener than we thought!

You can check out our Dr. Suzuki's columns in these two Chinese weekly publications: and Global Chinese Press.

June 15, 2011

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Jun 16, 2011
9:41 AM

I agree with Winnie and think that there are amazing opportunities to engage the Chinese community in climate issues. Our culture is community-oriented and has a deep history with nature. We just have to wake it up ;)

Jun 16, 2011
9:31 AM

Thanks for writing your article and sharing your thoughts with us. I enjoyed the read and gladly the columnist has an educated response coming his way.   I try not to make assumptions, nor do I give hope much of a chance. In both cases, it is to act, that makes the world of difference and satisfying my craving to educate others on sustainability and climate change.   Fact: from the last federal election, the Richmond riding had the lowest voter turnout in BC, yet we have the highest population of Chinese Canadians as residents and we elected a Chinese Canadian MP.   Keep engaging the new Canadians to act, as we are doing this from multiple approaches. The more we can overlap our strategies, the better our chances for seeing cooperative successes with ecological literacy of the masses.   Michael Wolfe

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