Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imagePeople in the West seem to have a bleak vision of the prospects for our way of life and even for the survival of humanity.YorkBerlin/Shutterstock

A new, four-nation study has found people rate the risks of global threats to humanity surprisingly high. These perceptions are likely to be important, socially and politically, in shaping how humanity responds to the threats.

The study, of more than 2000 people in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, found:

  • 54% of people surveyed rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next 100 years at 50% or greater;

  • almost one in four (24%) rated the risk of humans being wiped out within a century at 50% or greater;

  • almost three in four (73%) believe there is a 30% or greater risk of our way of life ending (30% said that the risk is 70% or more); and

  • almost four in ten (39%) believe there is a 30% or greater danger of humanity being wiped out (10% said the risk is 70% or more).

Perceptions of risks to way of life and humanity by country

imagePercentage support for propositions that existing way of life and humanity have a 50% or more chance of ending in a century.University of Wollongong, Author provided

The study also asked people about different responses to the threats. These responses were categorised as nihilism (the loss of belief in a social or moral order; decadence rules), fundamentalism (the retreat to certain belief; dogma rules), or activism (the transformation of belief; hope rules). It found:

  • a large majority (78%) agreed “we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world” (activism);

  • about one in two (48%) agreed that “the world’s future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love” (nihilism); and

  • more than one in three (36%) said “we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world” (fundamentalism).

Findings were similar across countries, age, sex and other demographic groups, although some interesting differences emerged. For example, more Americans (30%) believed the risk of humans being wiped out was high and that humanity faces a final conflict between good and evil (47%). This presumably reflects the strength in the US of Christian fundamentalism and its belief in the “end time”, a coming Apocalypse.

Perceptions of risk to way of life and humanity by generation

imagePercentage support for propositions that existing way of life and humanity have a 50% or more chance of ending in a century.University of Wollongong, Author provided

A world of threats coming to a head

There is mounting scientific evidence and concern that humanity faces a defining moment in history – a time when it must address growing adversities or suffer grave consequences. Reputable journals are canvassing the possibilities; the new study will be published in a special issue of Futures on “Confronting catastrophic threats to humanity”.

Most focus today is on climate change and its many, potentially catastrophic, impacts. Other threats include depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems; continuing world population growth; disease pandemics; global economic collapse; nuclear and biological war and terrorism; and runaway technological change.

Many of these threats are not new. Scientists and other experts have warned of the dangers for decades. Nevertheless, the evidence is growing stronger, especially about climate change, and never before have actual events, including natural disasters and calamities, and their sustained and graphic media coverage so powerfully reinforced the possible impacts.

Not surprisingly, then, surveys reveal widespread public pessimism about the future of the world, at least in Western countries. This includes a common perception of declining quality of life, or that future generations will be worse off.

However, there appears to have been little research into people’s perceptions of how dire humanity’s predicament is, including the risk of collapse of civilisation or human extinction. These perceptions have a significant bearing on how societies, and humanity as a whole, deal with potentially catastrophic futures.

How does loss of faith in the future affect us?

People’s responses in our study do not necessarily represent considered assessments of the specific risks. Rather, they are likely to be an expression of a more general uncertainty and fear, a loss of faith in a future constructed around notions of material progress, economic growth and scientific and technological fixes to the challenges we face.

This loss of faith is important, yet hardly registers in current debate and discussion. We have yet to understand its full implications.

At best, the high perception of risk and the strong endorsement of an activist response could drive a much greater effort to confront global threats. At worst, with a loss of hope, fear of a catastrophic future erodes people’s faith in society, affecting their roles and responsibilities, and their relationship to social institutions, especially government.

It can deny us a social ideal to believe in – something to convince us to subordinate our own individual interests to a higher social purpose.

There is a deeply mythic dimension to this situation. Humans have always been susceptible to apocalyptic visions, especially in times of rapid change; we need utopian ideals to inspire us.

Our visions of the future are woven into the stories we create to make sense and meaning of our lives, to link us to a broader social or collective narrative. Historians and futurists have emphasised the importance of confidence and optimism to the health of civilisations and, conversely, the dangers of cynicism and disillusion.

Despite increasing political action on specific issues like climate change, globally the scale of our response falls far short of matching the magnitude of the threats. Closing this gap requires a deeper understanding of how people perceive the risks and how they might respond.


This article was co-authored by Richard Eckersley, founding director of Australia21.

Melanie Randle receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/many-fear-the-worst-for-humanity-so-how-do-we-avoid-surrendering-to-an-apocalyptic-fate-47034

Writers Wanted

I studied 5,000 phone images: objects were more popular than people, but women took way more selfies

arrow_forward

Bad reactions to the COVID vaccine will be rare, but Australians deserve a proper compensation scheme

arrow_forward

Pacific tourism is desperate for a vaccine and travel freedoms, but the industry must learn from this crisis

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

BEN FORDHAM: Scott Morrison, good morning to you.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Ben. How are you?    FORDHAM: Good. How many days have you got to go?   PRIME MINISTER: I've got another we...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Business News

Cybersecurity data means nothing to business leaders without context

Top business leaders are starting to realise the widespread impact a cyberattack can have on a business. Unfortunately, according to a study by Forrester Consulting commissioned by Tenable, some...

Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable - avatar Scott McKinnel, ANZ Country Manager, Tenable

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards

InteliCare triple winner at prestigious national technology awards Intelicare wins each nominated category and takes out overall category at national technology 2020 iAwards. Company wins overal...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

Arriba Group Founder, Marcella Romero, wins CEO Magazine’s Managing Director of the Year

Founder and Managing Director of the Arriba Group, Marcella Romero, has won Managing Director of the Year at last night’s The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. The CEO Magazine's Ex...

Lanham Media - avatar Lanham Media



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion