I keep saying this, possibly to the point of tedium, but I really want to drive it home: as long as going green is viewed as an expensive and vaguely altruistic undertaking, it will never be a top priority.

Evidence is everywhere right now. After several years of ceaseless focus on climate and pop culture green-is-the-new-black hype, we’re seeing it all go out the window at the first sign of dropping oil prices and economic hard times.

Over on IHT, Daniel Altman (via Brad Plumer) says that in the face of economic downturn, "going green could begin to be seen as an unaffordable luxury." Over on Time, Bryan Walsh discusses how fears of recession are sidelining green concerns. AFP reports that financial woes may derail international climate talks, and the Guardian has uncovered papers which indicate that the EU Council is preparing to bail on green commitments. With oil down to around $88/barrel, the Big Three automakers, who have been shifting to high-fuel-economy vehicles, are panicking. Oh noes! Maybe we should go back to gas guzzlers!

What’s to blame for the seeming fragility of green concerns? Here are some possible answers:

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  1. Too much climate: Despite the warnings of pleadings of bright greens, there’s still been too little work done tying green measures to economic revitalization and national security. Economic rescue and stimulation are one thing. Energy independence is another. And climate is a third thing. In that taxonomy, climate will always come last. The goal should be a comprehensive vision of a clean economy that creates jobs, increases security, and reduces emissions. That way people are solving their own immediate problems along with far-off global problems.
  2. Green = expensive: The political and intellectual establishment for the most part thinks of green initiatives as a big money suck. So when’s oil prices are low, why worry? When oil prices are high, is now the time to increase costs more? This is a failure, as I said the other day, to place efficiency at the center of the green agenda — efficiency lowers costs and makes them more predictable, just what we need in this day and age.
  3. Status quo = safe: Any time we’re told this or that green initiative is expensive, the question should be, "compared to what?" Oil supply isn’t going to keep up with demand; coal’s getting more expensive; natural gas is getting more expensive. Climate change is causing droughts, storms, displacements, and conflicts. Unless we do something to make our economies more resilient in the face of these trends, we can expect wild fluctuations and crises and general anxiety. The path we are on is only going to take us to worse and worse places. Green is the offramp.
  4. Too few articles like this in the mainstream press, to drive this point of view into the public’s consciousness.

What’s your explanation for why green is always the first to go?

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