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”?