Earth Day and The Economy

Are we Feeling Less Festive this Year?

earth_day_graphics_13Another year, another earth day. But this time last April, we were just beginning to see the subprime bubble burst, which of course was the start of the larger unraveling. And of course gas prices were just beginning to climb, with mass transit squeezing people into trains and trolleys like never before. Those concerned with environmental protection were seeing places of opportunity to advance their causes with the transition to more sustainable lifestyles by necessity: less consumption and less driving would make America a greener place.

My my, what changes in a year. People are drivng like gas is cheap, because it is. And while environmentalists have a new president, friendly to their cause, most Americans are luke warm or plain cold on the environment. In the most recently conducted polls, the majority of Americans rank environmental protection at an all time low. As we reported in January, when the findings first came out, the Pew Center for Research found that global warming came in dead last on the list of Americans’ priorities for the brand new president. The environment in general placed not too far above it. More recently Gallup found that people are more willing to have economic growth at the cost of a clean environment, for the first time since the question has ever been asked. The wording in this question seems leading to me (but is the same as has always been used) and of course, the silent, invisible nature of environmental problems and the distance of a polar bear (literally and physically) compared with say, mortgage costs, debt, college loans, feeding children, etc. sets us up for a predictably low number of people saying we should protect the environment (read: polar bears) first.

Elizabeth Kolbert, reminisces on the first Earth Day celebration in this week’s New Yorker. The edge of the American people was slightly more present and the president didn’t care. We seem to have found ourselves in the opposite situation this time. Can’t we have both? In my opinion, the reason that people were so amped up at that point was that environmental protection was directly related to human health. The landmark environmental regulations that were passed at that point dealt with very scary things, that weren’t quite as far from us as polar bears. Clean air, clean water (for drinking, recreation, and habitats) and the elimination of DDT all had tangible impacts on peoples lives. There was reason for fear and everyone could understand it. I’m not sure we will see an edgier earth day until critical mass is reached again. So, today, if you are in the camps of the converted, educated, and concerned and you understand what is going on, think about how we build the movement. Happy Earth Day.

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