The Washington Post brings the serious gloom and doom today with a front-page story: “Historic oil spill fails to produce gains for U.S. environmentalists.” It’s making the rounds among green groups and climate activists. Lead environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin and David A. Fahrenthold write:
This year, the worst oil spill in U.S. history — and, before that, the worst coal-mining disaster in 40 years — haven’t put the same kind of drive into the debate over climate change and fossil-fuel energy.
The Senate is still gridlocked. Opinion polls haven’t budged much. Gasoline demand is going up, not down.
Environmentalists say they’re trying to turn public outrage over oil-smeared pelicans into action against more abstract things, such as oil dependence and climate change. But historians say they’re facing a political moment deadened by a bad economy, suspicious politics, and lingering doubts after a scandal over climate scientists’ emails.
A few thoughts:
— The most annoying part of the story is a reference to the climategate “scandal” that fails to note that it’s been thoroughly disproven.
— In response to the story, one staffer for a senator active on environmental issues attributes the lack of progress to the old “silo” problem — progressives consider environmentalism to be a discrete camp that doesn’t deserve the full support of the left. He writes in an email:
Environmentalism is and has been for years one of the biggest progressive issues, but it still remains perceived by many as its own entity with a discrete set of concerns and desired outcomes rather than central to the progressive conversation and part of the same basic fight as financial reform, union organizing, etc, etc. You are an “environmentalist” if you care about what’s happening to the climate we live in, or the resources we are squandering. No one says you are a “healthcare-ist” if you care about healthcare, or a “wage-ist” if you care about better wages.
— To me, the most interesting part of the Post‘s overview is the ending quote:
At 11 weeks after the spill, some historians say it’s too early to say it won’t alter national environmental politics. Adam Rome, a historian of the U.S. environmental movement at Pennsylvania State University, said that it could take a year for the public to understand what the spill has done to the gulf — and for politicians to understand what the spill has done to the public.
“If we don’t do anything then, then it’s a sign that we’ve entered into some newer, more passive mode of responding to disasters,” Rome said.
I’ll be reaching out to Rome to see if he’ll unpack this thought a bit. In the meantime, what do y’all think of the whole analysis? Premature? Too gloomy? Appropriately dire?
[Update: Success! I spoke with Rome, and here’s the interview.]