WaPo Story Laments Lack of 'Awakening' After Oil Spill to Need for Green Agenda

July 12th, 2010 8:25 AM

The Washington Post put the bad news for liberals right at the top of Monday's front page, left side: "Climate debate unmoved by spill." Reporters David Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin lamented that "great change" is not following the "great tragedy" of the BP oil spill. We haven't had an "awakening" to our wasteful ways:  

Environmentalists say they're trying to turn public outrage over oil-smeared pelicans into action against more abstract things, such as oil dependence and climate change. But historians say they're facing a political moment deadened by a bad economy, suspicious politics and lingering doubts after a scandal over climate scientists' e-mails.

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.

Only liberals are "awake," while the public is "asleep." They wonder why newspaper readership is declining. Here's how the story started:

For environmentalists, the BP oil spill may be disproving the maxim that great tragedies produce great change.

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.

Fahrenthold and Eilperin palpably sympathize: "for the environmental groups trying to break this logjam, it's hard to imagine a more useful disaster."

After all, "The BP oil spill has made something that is usually intangible -- the cost of fossil-fuel dependence -- into something tangibly awful."

When ClimateGate was raised, the Post reporters dismissed that as a tempest in a tea party While Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council stressed this is the "last best chance to pass a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill," the Post added:

It's hard to tell how many people are listening.

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.

Leiserowitz said there may be distrust of climate science among a small group after the "Climate-gate" scandal last year, in which stolen e-mails seemed to show climate scientists talking about problems in their data. Those scientists have been repeatedly cleared of academic misconduct, including in a report released Wednesday.

The Post did quote Kenneth P. Green of the "conservative American Enterprise Institute," on the "great change" question:

"There's a caveat," Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said of the rule that great change follows great disasters. "Which is: 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."

None of the advocates for onerous "climate change" bills featured in the story were labeled as liberal.