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Think locally, act globally: Combating climate change from China’s BRI to MN Line 3

Illustration by Sadie Favour


In an increasingly interconnected world, vicious problems such as climate change appear to be much too monumental to overcome on an international scale. We have been taught to think globally, and act locally — a process where we focus global issues into the scope of our present day community. But what if we expanded our definition of community to include the whole world? What if we started to think locally and act globally?

The issue of climate change has been prevalent on an international scale for decades. However, it is easy to focus on developmental causes of climate change close to home rather than abroad. Earlier this semester students at St. Olaf protested the implementation of the Line 3 pipeline — a project set to produce as much carbon dioxide as 50 new coal power plants. But what if we expanded our world view to include considerations about how pollution from Line 3 will affect other parts of the world? Additionally, what if we in turn looked at how development projects within other countries will affect us? What if we considered the power of sharing our ideas on divestment internationally?

Right now, one of the world’s largest development projects is occurring internationally — China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a comprehensive project, spanning Eurasia with the aim of creating an interconnected road, rail and trade network. This project was announced in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping to further international development and boost economic growth across Europe, Asia and Africa. While infrastructure investment is a crucial catalyst to accelerate the achievement of gender equality and increase countries’ GDPs, thus boosting the economies of participating states, China’s BRI projects will destroy the environment if they are not constructed sustainably.

As of 2019, China has pledged to create a “green” BRI, with commitments to making its investments in infrastructure sustainable. Despite the pledge, the BRI overwhelmingly utilizes fossil fuels. According to the United Kingdom think tank Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development, BRI countries are set to produce “more than 60 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and the per capita emissions that are 6.1 tons, which is higher than the world average of 4.5 tons.” Additionally, research from the Council of Foreign Relations shows that 91% of energy-sector loans made by six major Chinese banks to BRI countries were for fossil fuel projects. The pollution that will result from these projects will not remain stagnant and will affect the whole world.

While these numbers seem daunting, the BRI may be an effective platform for mobilizing and integrating green development on an international scale given the correct response. In our interconnected world, local experience (such as petitioning for divestment in fossil fuels at St. Olaf) can be related across geographical, political and cultural space to become raw materials for struggle elsewhere.

Across Asia, Africa and Europe, protests have emerged due to the perceived notion of BRI corruption and that countries’ inability to pay back debt will give China an excuse to gain control of vital transportation links, such as ports and railways. Rather than support the anti-Chinese protests that have erupted internationally as a result of the BRI’s debt-trap diplomacy, this is a call to action to relate the experiences of climate action at St. Olaf to the struggles that other states are facing internationally and provide a unified and unrelenting response to the continuation of fossil fuel investment worldwide. Development has been key to creating a green world, however, and as St. Olaf students, we can push our ideas on divestment in fossil fuels to an international scale of reinvestment in green, clean and sustainable energy.

International development projects matter because, just as Minnesota’s Line 3 pipeline will contribute to the increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, pushing us ever closer to the two degrees celsius mark, so too will the Belt and Road Initiative create global turmoil if green infrastructure is not achieved.

Education on international infrastructure projects is important because it expands our sense of locality. In a time where climate change has become a frightening reality, we can no longer afford to just look at problems within our local communities. The world is our new local.

Lucia Wyland ’23 is from

Madison, WI.

Her majors are political science and Spanish.

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