climate change globalisation

What are we scared of?

There’s a fascinating survey out from the Pew Research Centre this morning. They’ve asked over 45,000 people in 40 countries how concerned they were about a range of international issues. Here are the top concerns in the participating countries:


There’s a lot to explore in this map. Many countries have an obvious vulnerability and are appropriately concerned. Eastern Europe has an eye on Russia. Russia is quite rightly worried about the economy. The Vietnamese have China as their highest concern (the question specifies ‘border disputes with China’ rather than general tensions, so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t feature among countries that don’t border China – a flaw in the survey design, in my opinion.)

In 19 out of the 40 countries, climate change is the biggest concern. It’s the biggest issue in South America, Africa, India and China. Again, there’s good reason to be concerned. Many of the countries in blue on the map above are acutely vulnerable to climate change. Notice Turkey. Even though it borders Syria and Iraq, its people are more concerned about climate change than ISIS. Around the world, people get climate change.

Well, most of the world gets climate change. The other thing that’s hard to miss is that in the West, we seem to be united in fearing ISIS above all else. It proves once again that if the point of terrorism is to inspire terror, it works. Perhaps it also shows something else. In her book Fear: A Cultural History, Joanna Burke argues that fear is cultural and isn’t necessarily linked to actual risk. She suggests that even before 9/11, Islam was taking the place of communism as our big over-arching fear.

Is the Western world in the grip of an irrational fear? Maybe. Or perhaps we have the luxury of not being particularly vulnerable. We’re not intimidated by Russia or China. The economy is going okay. For some of us, climate change seems far away. In the absence of an obvious threat, those ISIS maniacs look like a nasty bunch. Yes, I’m very concerned about them.

Likely as not it’s a bit of both and more besides. Australia is highly susceptible to climate change, and has every reason to be more concerned about it than ISIS. But climate change is highly politicized. As a coal producing country, it pays not to think about the climate too much. Pew note that climate change concern divides dramatically along political lines in the US, with 62% of democrats concerned versus just 20% for republicans. It’s less pronounced in Britain, but still a problem: 49% of the traditional left are concerned, to 30% on the right.

One final thing that Pew highlight is that age is also a factor in developing countries. Generally speaking, the older you are the more likely you are to be concerned about global issues – presumably because you’ve seen more of the story with Iran, or Russia. The exception is climate change, where it works in reverse, and the younger are more likely to be concerned.


  1. It is possible that there is an age thing going on here.

    The countries that rate climate change as a threat more highly are those with younger populations. There isn’t much in the report but it does say that climate change is rated a bigger threat by younger Americans than old and I have seen similar figures elsewhere.

    Now if it is a fairly global phenomenon that climate change a bigger issue for the young than the old then it would make sense that countries with younger populations on average would rate the issue higher.

    The next question is whether this is a lasting concern that the young will carry with them as they age (a bit like relaxed attitudes to homosexuality in the West) or if it is something they grow out of, like voting Labour. While young people vote Labour more than average, older people vote Labour less than average. This was true in 1974 and is true now when those who were young in 1974 are old now. Hence it is hardly surprising the correlation of Labour supporters finding climate change a higher issue than Tories.

    1. Interesting observation, and a map of the world by median age shows some possible correlations.

      Generational fears are going to be inevitable I suppose. If all the biggest threats are political growing up, environmental threats don’t loom as large. But if you’re born in the 90s it’s possibly the other way round.

      Whether climate change is a fear we grow out of will depend on how it unfolds. They also say a lot of people suddenly start taking it seriously when they have their first child, so perhaps concern will increase.

  2. A very interesting little graph (map). In my opinion this shows the power of the media. We should all have climate change at the top possible even the banking corruption going on, but ISIS feeds of the press. There is so much going on in the world yet all we heard about is ISIS and other wars,the media have us in their pockets. Media lead fear is our greats enemy!

    1. Possibly. I think Eastern Europe is quite right to see Russia as a more urgent threat, and ISIS is going to be a top concern in parts of the Middle East. In the West, absolutely – ISIS is a media obsession and ultimately a distraction from things that are, in the long term, going to affect us more. That’s not to downplay ISIS, but to keep it in perspective. ISIS may cause us some trouble, but it’s not likely to substantially disrupt our way of life. The same cannot be said of climate change.

      1. Climate change is definitely my concern other that a iminent economic collapse but that can be over come. ISIS has been created by the US and UK through one way or another, not that it’s ok but that is the root cause and as you say the western media fuel their existence.

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