The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. - FDR
It's a very pleasant experience when something we can see than some supposedly ominous threat turns out to be more or less inconsequential. Well, it's put up or shut up time for the environmental movement. The political environment (no pun intended) is friendly, so if the Obama Administration doesn't enact a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, can we safely conclude global warming was complete crock from the get-go?
Not necessarily, to answer my own question. But I think we will see a shift in perception. It's harder to get motivated about a hypothetical crisis fifty or a hundred years from now when we're in the middle of an actual one. We don't even have to convince ourselves that anthropogenic global warming can't happen. We may decide that it's something we can adapt to, or even like it.
Several conservative commentators have argued that modern environmentalism is more like a religion than a science, or just special interest pleading for the cynical-minded. If this is true (and I for one believe it is), this hasn't gotten a lot of mainstream traction. But if we try to argue that environmentalism is just religion for postmodern liberals, we have to acknowledge that it's relatively short on rituals, priests and Scriptures. Instead let's acknowledge that the epistemology of environmentalism is aesthetic: harmony and tranquility are good, mindless noise and consumerism are bad. And on its own terms, the environmental aesthetic is at the very least unobjectionable, and often praiseworthy. But there are other aesthetic goods, (eg happiness, elegance, justice, etc.) and in our lives we usually rely on judgment and context to fit them in as best as we can.
On a more concrete level, the inductive logic between the environmental aesthetic and what we recognize as environmental advocacy today is very flawed. And slowly but surely I suspect it will increasingly be perceived to be flawed.