We're All Living in Internet Time Now
Things sure move fast these days. If we look at the environment, it wasn't so long ago that in the U.S. green wasn't on the mainstream's radar and opinions on global warming were extremely polarized. Then in the past couple years, everybody and their dogs were now into green. European governments were pledging to make huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, etc.
But things are changing. Are we on the eve of a new 180 degrees? Read on for more.Pendulum Swing?
With the worse global recession in many decades, there are signs of change in the green world. Negative change. Few countries are on track to meet even the modest Kyoto protocol targets, there is lots of dissent within the EU about closing down coal plants (especially in places like Poland and in countries that don't want to become more dependent on Russian natural gas), and even though the new US administration will almost certainly be much more eco-friendly than the Bush administration (not hard to beat), we can still expect red herrings like corn ethanol and clean coal to get taxpayer money a while longer. China is a bit bipolar on the environmental front, with some really great things and some really horrible things. The tragedy of the commons hasn't been solved in the high sea yet and many fisheries are headed for collapse. Etc.
But there are also some good news.
Some of the gains of the past few years are not going away. We crossed the rubicon, and we're not going back on things like the necessity of clean energy and awareness about the climate crisis. People are now familiar with hybrid cars (not weird anymore) and much less prejudiced against electric cars, which had a makeover in the public's imagination from golf cart to Tesla supercar. Rising energy prices have made people aware of the benefits of efficiency, and while that might fade a bit because of falling oil prices, I think that those who knew people who went through the depression in the 1930s know that you keep the efficiency/frugality mindset for life.
Where Regressions Might Happen
The biggest setbacks, sadly, might be in sectors that have a big impact: Corporate investments in green, and political will.
When profits are falling and capital is hard to rise, companies simply don't invest as much in long-term green projects. Some money-saving efficiency investments might still happen, but R&D; and investments with an uncertain or long return on investment might be scrapped.
On the state front, it's a lot harder to keep the environment on the radar during elections when everybody's concerned with the economy, and it's a lot harder to implement measures which would be more expensive (maybe not if you count "externalities", but that's still a harder sell) than alternatives because they are greener. Governments also tend to make really big promises when everything's going well and then quietly drop them or scale them back when things don't look as rosy.
What Should We Do?
But thankfully, the most important thing is what most people think and want. In the end, politicians try to get votes, and companies try to make stuff that people will want. It's not exactly that straightforward, but the general direction is given by individuals. If nobody except 5% of the population cares about green, you won't have that many green policies or products. But if 70% care about green, things will move.
Stay informed. Help others learn about green. Use your vote and your wallet to send a message. Spread the word. Don't wait for a savior to drop from the sky and fix everything, do your part.
See also: 4 Reasons Why Recession is BAD for the Environment
Photo #1 from WildPhotons, #2 courtesy of Roger_80.