Thursday, February 15, 2007

What Should Parents do about Global Warming? Avaaz Karo!

I belong to a feminist economics listserv where the posts generally deal with state policies on childcare and labor force participation rates. A few weeks ago, someone posted a general question to the listserv about global warming. What solutions do economists think will work? she asked. To my horror, the responses were mostly negative and fatalistic. Individual sacrifices, they said, cannot possibly make a substantial dent in the total carbon dioxide emissions. They believed that people in the U.S. could not give up their comforts. And that, even if people in the states did accept some changes, the tremendous economic growth in India and China would effectively cancel those reductions out.

There are a number of reasons why their arguments are specious. All growth is not equal. (Feminist economists have actually taken a lead in pointing this out, which makes the listserv discussion so surprising.) If the US were to spend all the Iraq war money on local daycare centers and windmill farms, the economy would likely have grown faster, our emissions would have been comparatively lower, and our lives would be more comfortable. Building commuter trains and highways both contribute to economic growth, but obviously they have very different effects on total emissions. Also, middle class people in India consume very differently than they do in the US. Growth in India and China does not necessarily mean an additional two billion people living the same consumptive lives people in the States currently do.

Furthermore, when I behave in a socially and environmentally conscious way, I know that my individual actions are not enough. We ride bikes, take buses and trains, avoid eating meat, buy local and organic, use vinegar instead of Windex, wash cloth diapers at home, compost our food waste, and recycle our paper, glass, and plastic – we do all these actions because they make our lives more enjoyable and meaningful. We do them because our actions can have a symbolic force when we share them over this blog. We do these actions because relatively small groups of individuals can change social norms. We do these actions because they bring us into a social network that lovingly supports us and allows us to act collectively for institutional, state, and global changes.

If you don’t agree with what I’m saying and feel that global warming is inevitable, that it is unavoidable and that BabyG will inherit a world of ecological disaster, I say be silent. What's the use of loud fatalism? For those interested in meaningful debate and action, let’s make our voices heard.

I'm interested in a new website called The site will attempt to use the same technology as and other such nation-focused sites with the hope of networking a multinational group of progressive people. The main organizers are based on four continents and they publish the site in ten languages. Check out the following Aavaz video:

Avaaz means "voice" or "song" in several languages including Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Nepalese, Dari, Turkish, and Bosnian. In Gujarati, we also use the word "aavaz", although we tend to use it to mean noise, which is what activism often amounts to. I think this slippage in the usage of "avaaz" is worth considering. We do have a limited amount of time and resources to commit. We can be active without being effective. We can make noise without our voices coming through.

Although Aavaz is still quite young, I'm hopeful that they will build an effective group. Problems like global warming can no more be addressed by single nations than by individuals. I also assume that Aavaz will feature many of the same limitations that does. The top-down design of head organizers sending out dispatches and calls to action does not harness the creative power of decentralized, collective decision-making that characterizes, say, the Indymedia websites. But every approach has its limitations and I think there is a time for high-achieving, well-funded organizers to tell a group of like-minded people how to act in concert. So take a look at their website and consider adding your email to their list.


Anonymous said...

MoveOn has had many successful campaigns, though I think a lot of people think of them related to the unsuccessful 2004 presidential election. I'm always impressed when I look at all the campaigns -- their local and national ones. MoveOn has been such a powerful force in the US...I think there's room to be hopeful a like-organization can be successful worldwide, too.

Aside from the campaigns and their goals, I think a forum in which people from all over the world learn how other nations are viewing their leaders, and themselves, a forum in which arguments might be waged from perspectives common to a given group, but novel to the rest of the world, is very exciting.

Great post!


Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I do think that global warming is inevitable, but I also believe that individual actions are important. I'll check out that site, thanks.

sotomayora said...

excellent post - the numbing mindlessness some of our comforts enable makes it easy to maintain the status quo - the argument that the aspiring economies of China and India would negate any CO2 cutbacks the US makes is irresponsibly apathetic. Apathy is a great supporter of the business-as-usual approach - and is a fantastic excuse to be lazy.