Oil Spills: No One Really Cares Too Much

Posted by | July 19, 2010 13:28 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

There’s a lesson here for activists of all stripes.  Many predicted that after the BP oil spill occurred, there would be a dramatic uptick in environmentalism, mirroring those after the Exxon Valdez spill and the publication of Silent Spring. Instead,

In public-opinion polls taken after the spill by Leiserowitz and other academics, 53 percent of people said they were worried about climate change. That was only slightly different from January, and still down from 63 percent in 2008. . .  In addition, U.S. government estimates show that public demand for gasoline and electric power is looking stronger now than last year at this time. If these disasters have made individuals start conserving their energy use, “it’s not something that we’ve been able to observe,” said Tancred Lidderdale of the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Numerous explanations have been given for the lack of public demand for new environmental statutes but I think it all boils down to a simple one, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Environmentalism is something that economists call a “luxury good.”  When income is high, demand for environmental goods (such as clean air or water) is high.  When the economy is poor, people are more concerned about putting food on the table.

Industry may have gotten lucky (and the environment unlucky) that this disaster occurred during the worst economic crisis since the Depression.

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Copyright 2010 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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