Environment: Elbowed out by recession

In mid-February, George Will, resident Washington Post conservative and climate-skeptic, wrote an editorial denouncing “Dark Green Doomsayers.” The editorial was filled with anecdotal references of news articles from the 1970’s that declare widespread climate cooling and exclaim that the world will soon find itself in the next ice age. The piece outraged the environmental community and sparked a flurry of internet activity demanding that the Post retract the column for misinformation.

(Last week, the Post ran an opinion piece by Chris Mooney, author of “The Republican War on Science,” which rebuts Will’s editorial and scolds him for faulty fact-checking.)

Just last week they Gallup reported that for the first time in the 25-year history of the poll, Americans think that “economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent.” Now, an early March Gallup poll showed that a record 41 percent of people polled think that the threat of global warming is exaggerated.

The change of heart about the economy is not surprising.  We are in a recession, and the economy is the most tangible problem to most Americans.  But what about the surge in climate change skepticism?  Is it possible that when people put an issue on the back burner, they justify their decision by reassuring themselves that it wasn’t that important, after all?

As Will himself puts it, do “real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones”?

Author: Christine Buckley

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  1. It seems to me that many people are worried about the creature comforts that can be accumulated with man-made wealth. These are something easily valued and observed. OTOH, actions that would preserve or restore nature, such as conserving water by not watering lawns, or limiting one’s own bathing to something reasonable, like 1x/day for <6 minutes, are perceived by conservatives as threats to freedom and “the economy”. To me, when they say this will negatively impact the economy, they mean, ‘It impinges on my comfortable, albeit wasteful, lifestyle.’

  2. I don’t think a majority of people see the connection between the environment, our health, and the health of the economy. To me there is an obvious connection. It is quite unfortunate that our collective values have not reached a point to which the connection is apparent. The majority of Americans still believe that saving money equals buying cheap “stuff” and more of it. This includes products that are much more harmful to the environment such as prepackaged food, toxic household cleaners, plastics, and department store clothing at a sale price. In fact it is just as cost-effective to purchase bulk foods, garden, make non-toxic household cleaners (or spend just a little more on the eco-friendly brands), and shop at thrift stores for clothing. I think people are generally so cut-off from the later way of living that the former is all they are they really know.


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