Crisis, opportunity, and timing

We’ve all heard the saying that “crisis” means “opportunity” and “danger.” But when thinking about the Gulf oil disaster, many remain puzzled as to why this crisis has not produced the type of sustained public outrage that other environmental disasters have. And I was one of these people, but this article in The Washington Post does an excellent job of disentangling why so little seems to have occurred after an environmental disaster of epic proportions.

Basically, the upshot of the article is that while people are angry about the oil spill, the timing works against sweeping policy changes. Two of the problems that this article cites are the bad economy – when people are worried about their next paycheck, they have little concern for more broad social problems – and the divisiveness of American politics, which cultivates a sense of mistrust.

But there is one thing worth pointing out: while the article makes the claim that public opinion polls about worries over climate have only shifted slightly since the oil spill, views of offshore drilling have been more malleable. According to research by Pew in June of this year, those who oppose offshore drilling has increased by 21% since February – from 31 to 52% of the overall public (although they agree that on issues like use of nuclear power, mass transit, and alternative energy, there has been little change). On a related point, most of the increase in opposition to offshore drilling is among Democrats and Independents, with 28 and 22-point increases respectively, compared to Republicans, whose opposition is only 12 points higher than it was in February. So clearly, partisan politics continues to influence how people perceive the issue and what should be done about it.

Whatever the cause, one thing is clear: Crisis only means “opportunity” when the timing is right.

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