Matthew Yglesias at The American Prospect has an interesting piece on energy and the surrounding issues. The notion that our attention to environmental matters tends to be short-lived is one that we've seen quite a bit lately.
As the economic downturn really started hitting home, concern for the environment waned. The BP spill has brought environmental concerns to the forefront again, but as some of you commented in response to my last post, we don't expect people to change their behavior (at least not for very long) unless the issue hits them in the wallet.
This is one of the main ideas I want you to leave this class with: notions of ethics, morals and environmental stewardship are real motivators to engage in conservation, but when push comes to shove, people make decisions based on their own costs and benefits. In the context of the environment, the costs and benefits that individuals act on are different than those that affect us as a society. And there's big rub. If we want what's "best" for society, we have to develop policy tools that push individual costs and benefits toward those of society at large. This is not news. But as Yglesias points out, people tend to balk at the very solutions that we know will work, because implementing proper market signals for energy will raise resource prices. Again, people seem to want a solution, but they don't seem to want to pay for it.
Yglesias also points to the idea that our concern for nationalism might not be as fickle as our concern for the environment. But he questions the underlying net gains of "energy independence", because home-grown energy means that the external effects occur in our front yard.