Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Recession and Environment

Brad Plumer makes a good point about the recession being bad for the environment. Some theorize that because recession means less building and less traveling, that it is good for nature. But this is short-sighted. It might mean a temporary reprieve for some land that is slated for development. It might mean a tiny reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (or more precisely, a smaller rise). But as soon as the economy picks back up, those slight changes will reverse themselves.

Moreover, lower oil prices are likely to dampen Americans' move to change their life styles. That SUV doesn't look so bad now, especially if it is close to paid for. Americans are incredibly short sighted on environmental issues. If scarcity is directly affecting their pocketbooks, they'll consider green alternatives. But as soon as they don't have to think about, they will revert to their most environmentally unfriendly habits.

Plus, we see the credit crunch slowing the building of wind turbines and other alternative energy projects.

The problem is that environmental issues are simply not central to our political narratives. They are not national priorities. In the 3 presidential debates, I believe the environment has been discussed for 5 minutes. Which is actually more than I thought it would be. It is not sufficient to leave alternative energy and larger environmental issues to the market. They need to be made national priorities that require direct federal intervention, along with the military and the economy. Each day we ignore our environmental problems is one day closer to them becoming a national emergency that will be incredibly difficult to handle.