Five years ago, I coined the term "peak indifference" to describe a moment when a public health problem -- like climate change, tobacco use, surveillance capitalism, or monopolism -- reaches a tipping point: the moment when the consequences of actions taken a long time ago and very far away start to be felt so widely that the number of people who believe there is a problem starts to grow of its own accord. It's not the moment when a majority of people agree that the problem is real, but it is the moment at which the denial of the realness of the problem reaches its peak, and begins a long, inevitable decline.
Peak indifference is the theory that says if you have a real problem that you falsely deny, the consequences of that problem will grow and grow, until you can't deny it any longer.
But peak indifference doesn't necessarily mean action. It can mean nihilism. It's easy for recognition to be accompanied by despair: "OK, yeah, I finally admit that you were right all along and smoking was gonna give me cancer, but fuck it, it's too late now, might as well enjoy this cigarette while I can."
(See also: "If the rhinos are doomed, why not kill this one?" and "If all my data is gonna leak some day, why not enjoy Facebook while I can?")
Now, a new poll reveals that the majority of Americans, including a majority of Republicans (including a majority of old white male Republicans) believe in climate change. This is definitely in keeping with the procession of climate change: when cities flood, states burn, pandemics sweep the nation, hurricanes and tornadoes flatten towns, it gets harder and harder to deny climate change.
The transformation isn't complete. Republicans are still apt to deny the seriousness of climate change, and, to a lesser extent, whether it is caused by human activity. That will change, given enough time: any doubts about the seriousness of climate change will be erased when someone you love or something you cherish is obliterated by climate change.
But the nihilism that so often accompanies peak indifference is also in evidence: a growing number of Republicans have gone straight from "climate change isn't real" to "it's too late to do anything about climate change."
Although the vast majority of Americans believe climate change is occurring, there continues to be a significant partisan divide about the seriousness of the problem. More than 8-in-10 Democrats (82%) say climate change is a very serious problem, an increase of 19 percentage points from 63% in 2015. Half of independents (51%, up from 42%) say climate change is a very serious problem and only a quarter of Republicans (25%, up from 18%) feel the same.
Belief in climate change is nearly the same among Americans who live in coastal states (79%) and those who live in inland states (77%). However, coastal state residents (61%) are more likely than inland state residents (44%) to see climate change as a very serious problem. This gap is wider than it was three years ago, when 44% of coastal state residents and 38% of inland state residents said climate change was a very serious problem.
Public opinion is split on the cause of climate change. A plurality of Americans (37%) say human activity and natural changes in the environment are equally to blame. Three-in-ten (29%) say human activity is more to blame and 10% say natural changes in the environment are the larger cause. These results are similar to the Monmouth poll taken three years ago. Democrats (45%) continue to be more likely than independents (29%) and Republicans (13%) to say climate change is caused mainly by human activity.
Regardless of the cause, a majority of Americans (54%) say there is still time to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Another 16% say it is too late to act and 4% volunteer that there is nothing we can or should do about it. The remainder are unsure if there is still time to prevent the worst effects or do not believe climate change is happening. Among the just over half who say there is still time, 31% of that group feel we have to act in the next year or two to prevent the worst effects of climate change, 46% say we need to act in the next 10 to 15 years, and 17% say we have more time than that to act.
Climate Concerns Increase; Most Republicans Now Acknowledge Change [Monmouth University]
(via Naked Capitalism)