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.