There are many opinions one may have about activist movements and I’m sure they vary between movements and even between missions within a single movement. Typically, when I’m confronted with a movement or a mission I try to have an open ear towards the statement and every now and then I “support” some with my name and email but stepping onto the streets, shouting and weaving silly slogans is, I guess, not how I try to express opinions.
I’m subscribed to the Avaaz mailing list and within a few days I got at least two emails on the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. I would like to discuss two statements that are part of the email I got a few hours ago. According to Avaaz,
Leaders disappointed the entire world in Copenhagen last weekend. (Emphasis added.)
Avaaz mentions the “polluting industry lobbyists,” to be the only not disappointed. I’m fairly confident, the statement is not correct. Without searching too far, personally I didn’t expect anything more so I’m not disappointed. The statement I have most difficulties with, however, is the following,
Let’s show the polluter lobby that we can’t be silenced, and show politicians that the future belongs to people, not polluters.
That the polluting industry out there wants to stick to the status quo is obvious. Provided an oil company is an example for such a polluting industry, it is rather naive to think its managers will change anything that might, in their opinion, negatively affect what the industry does: to extract, process and sell oil. This is about optimizing rational self-interest and not everything about this moral is bad. (My caveat is on rational and the, I think, necessary condition of cost internalization – which I would love to discuss and understand better.)
What troubles me most about the statement above is this dualism of polluter industry and the people, where the latter seems to be separate from the former. Now, I think, this is beyond ridiculous. Not just is life probably inherently associated with polluting habits and some scientists “estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children” , the quoted Avaaz statement contradicts basic economics. I’m far away from understanding the field but I believe I might get this one straight based on what I recall from my economics university classes: It’s all about supply and demand. So, what an industry does is to try to match demand with supply. There is no industry where there is no demand. Who is fueling the demand for the supply those polluting industries provide? You may guess it: We, the people.
I’m not saying, there is no room for improvement, being cost externalization probably my main concern, but suggesting that there is no link between the polluting industry and the people is, I think, nonsense.
You might, perhaps correctly, argue that I did pick a single statement and had a knee jerk reaction about it. Maybe. However, the entire email, and increasingly so the Avaaz Copenhagen mission, has this dualistic aftertaste that is, I think, disconcerting.
 Paul A. Murtaugh and Michael G. Schlax. Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals. Global Environmental Change. Volume 19, Issue 1, February 2009, Pages 14-20.