Bookmark and ShareSam Thompson is a researcher and a consultant at nef‘s centre for well-being.

Via Environmental Economics, here’s a rather striking graph from a recent Gallup survey


Now, it’s probably no surprise that when the economy starts tanking, public opinion swings in favour of fixing it quickly. Judging from the graph, it looks like much the same kind if thing happened during the dot-com crash.

But the interesting point about these questions is that they are framed explicitly in terms of trade-offs. With that in mind, it’s surprising just how receptive US public opinion appears to have been in the 80s and 90s towards the idea of giving up some GDP for environmental protection. Even as US Senators were lining up behind the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which argued explicitly against ratifying the Kyoto protocol because it might threaten the US economy, a clear two-thirds of people were in favour of environmental measures “even at the risk of curbing economic growth”.

What people say in surveys and what they actually do are not the same thing, of course. Still, makes you wonder what might have been achieved with a bit of bold political leadership.