There was, for a brief period then, a sort of optimism about what the United States could accomplish on climate change. President George W. Bush, already on his way out the door in April 2008, affirmed that human activity was causing global warming and vowed that the "ingenuity and enterprise of the American people" would help us overcome it. Barack Obama won the White House later that year with the promise that the next four years would be remembered as the time "when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal" (a pledge that became a punch line for his Republican challenger this time around).
Since then, the United States has failed to do anything significant about climate change. The issue has disappeared from the national radar, even as the scientific evidence has piled up. Political leaders no longer care about it, outside the occasional obligatory mention, in large part because voters don't either. Internationally, the situation isn't much better. Despite all the hype about the 2009 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, there's still no binding international accord that sets emission limits for both the United States and China. And this past June, a conference held on the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit -- billed as a "once-in-a-generation chance" to set out a vision for a sustainable future -- was similarly disappointing, concluding with a flimsy political statement.
The lack of enthusiasm for all things environmental is pretty easy to explain: It's the recession, stupid. Yet climate change skeptics -- a camp that includes both the hired guns of the fossil-fuel industry and some true unbelievers -- like to claim they are winning the debate.
Americans' interest in cutting emissions has sagged almost in lockstep with the rising unemployment rate. Who has time to worry about melting glaciers when the mortgage payment is late or the supervisor is shuffling pink slips?
I don't have anything to add since Kate nails. I just wanted to say that I think this is also the reason for the lack of coverage of foreign policy and civil liberties that are affect by foreign policy/national security. The attack in Benghazi captured the media's attention for a while. But soon after they were right back onto the horse race of the campaign and the economy.
Obama's terrible record in regard to drone strikes or even things considered good by most people (like killing bin Laden or Iraq ending) are largely ignored by the media. If Bush had killed bin Laden before the 2004 election it would have been in the news constantly. Also, if Bush had implemented Obama's drone policy before the 2006 election it would have been in the news a lot and liberals would be raising much more concern about it than they are currently.
Not only is the wellbeing of the economy important in and of itself, it's also important for non-mainstream issues like climate change and foreign policy in general. Without enthusiasm for solving problems regarding those issues nothing happens.