The vertiginous plunges in environmental concern are indeed remarkable – but, it has to be said, only what has been expected ever since the worst global recession for more than half a century took hold.
For although green concern may be a permanent state of mind among environmental activists, conservationists and climate scientists, it has long been realised that among the wider, non-specialist public at large, it is a phenomenon of prosperity.
Bluntly stated, when people lose their jobs and their livelihoods, they do not give a fig for the rainforest. Their own survival and welfare, and that of their families, takes precedence over all else.
This characteristic of human feeling was best explained by an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, in his “hierarchy of needs.” Sometimes depicted as a pyramid, and occasionally referred to as Maslow’s hierarchy of values, this is a simple but convincing visualisation of our motives – from the basic, such as food and shelter, at the bottom, to the more rarefied at the peak. And the point is, lower ones always concern us before higher ones; and environmental concern is right at the pyramid’s top.