I read in the news that sales of hybrid vehicles dropped 43% in December 2008 compared to a year ago. While sales of other cars also dropped, hybrid car sales dropped a lot more. The obvious reason is lower gas prices. When people were buying Toyota Prius above MSRP with a long waiting list, they said they were doing it for the environment, which is partly true. The payback time from fuel savings was already pretty long back then. Now that the payback period is even longer, apparently the environment is no longer a priority for a lot of people.
You’ve got to give it to Adam Smith. The invisible hand regulates people’s concern for carbon footprint or dependence on foreign oil. When they have money, they care about the environment. When they don’t have money, many people no longer need a good citizenship status symbol. It makes sense to me.