Happy Earth Day! (Pt. 1)

This Friday is Earth Day . . . wait, what’s that? You don’t have it marked and circled on your calendar? You’re not planning to wear hemp-cloth and (recycled) ashes this Friday? You have this Friday marked down as Good Friday? Don’t yet get it man, Earth Day is the post-modern Easter!
Anyway, you can be forgiven for forgetting about Earth Day, as it appears more and more Americans are doing so. I’ll have a fair bit to say about the whole matter this week, including a big announcement tomorrow (well okay, maybe not big–it certainly isn’t Drudge-worthy), but let’s start with an interesting public opinion data series from the good folks at the Gallup Poll, which runs the same omnibus survey about the environment every March, and reports the data usually this week. As a general matter, Gallup and other public opinion surveys show gradual erosion in public support for environmentalism.
One question in particular stands out. Since 1984 Gallup has asked, “Which of these statements about the environment and the economy do you most agree–protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth, or economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent?”
Figure-5.pngThe results of this question are displayed in the chart below (click to enlarge). As can be seen, in the 1980s and well into the 1990s the environment trumped the economy by huge margins, usually more than 2 – 1, a margin that only dipped slightly in times of recession. But the gap began to narrow in the last decade, even before the crash of 2008. In 2009, the economy came out on top for the firs time. Last year, Gallup asked the question in early March, and then asked the same question again in late May, and found that the sides had reversed slightly, with the environment coming out on top again. But what happened between early March and late May last year? The BP oil spill in the Gulf. The surprise here is that the environment didn’t enjoy more of a bump. And the latest number for this year, taken from a survey conducted last month, shows the public returning to the long-term trend.