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Historic BP Oil Spill Fails to Produce Gains for Environmentalists

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David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post write:

"Traditionally, American environmentalism wins its biggest victories after some important piece of American environment is poisoned, exterminated or set on fire. An oil spill and a burning river in 1969 led to new anti-pollution laws in the 1970s. The Exxon Valdez disaster helped create an Earth Day revival in 1990 and sparked a landmark clean-air law. But 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."

For those readers just arriving back on Earth after an extended stay elsewhere in the universe, Fahrenthold and Eilperin refer to BP (BP) and Massey Energy (MEE).

They go on to cite an academic's theory as to why things are different this time--though the academic in question doesn't exactly have an answer to the question being asked, but instead offers up the laser-like insight that things are, in fact, different this time.

"The difference between now and the awakenings that followed past disasters is as stark as "on versus off," said Anthony Leiserowitz, a researcher at Yale University who tracks public opinion on climate change.

"People's outrage is focused on BP," Leiserowitz said. The spill "hasn't been automatically connected to some sense that there's something more fundamental wrong with our relationship with the natural world," he said."

Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has his own theory:

"Great tragedy, with the right timing, can bring great change. . . . When people are in a bunker mentality, sort of hunkered down over the economy, then that's not going to produce significant change."

But Adam Rome, a historian of the U.S. environmental movement at Penn State, 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 can point to evidence of my own passive reactions to disasters.

For example, when Firefox crashes, I often choose not to send a crash report.

When I go to the fridge for orange juice and there's none left, I generally opt for another type of drink.

Face it--we're all guilty.

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