By Asitha Jayawardena
People from 14 countries from 4 continents say that both global climate change and the spread of infectious disease are a major threat to their own countries, as revealed by the Pew Research Center in October 2020.
A median of 70% said that climate change was a major threat to their country while 69% said the infectious disease was a significant danger to their nation.
The United States and Canada (North America), UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark (Europe), Japan and South Korea (Asia) and Australia (Oceania) are the 14 countries.
This study is part of the surveys in the last 8 years, starting from 2012.
From this study, the following three points can be identified.
Both climate change and infectious disease are a major threat
Firstly, when people were asked what is the major threat happening in their own countries, their response was somewhat equal. As a median value, around 69% of those surveyed considered the infectious disease as a major threat to their country while 70% thought the same about climate change.
The response to the question of whether climate change is a major threat, the UK had a percentage of 71% while the US was lower with 62%. The top three countries – Spain, France and Italy – had 83%.
Climate change has a history of more than 100 years in terms of carbon emissions but it is slow to act. When action happened somewhere, the other parts in the world are not in the same phase in action as such. Example are the fires in the Amazon as well as in California, the floods in Bangladesh and China, the heat waves in Europe and the bush fires in Australia.
The spread of infectious disease (e.g. Covid-19) is different. This spread happened after the Spanish flu pandemic from 1918 to 1920, infecting 500 million people in 4 waves. The death toll was estimated as 17 to 50 million people, sometimes as high as 100 million.
In December 2019, coronavirus contracted humans in Wuhan in China and now, 11 months later, it has grown to gobble the entire world.
Following the Covid-19 outbreak, the vaccines are developed but nobody knows when an injection will be developed as an answer to coronavirus. Or nobody knows if a vaccine can be developed at all. Until a vaccine is there, lockdown will happen, be it 3 tiers, 5 tiers, circuit breaker and national lockdown.
Unlike climate change, coronavirus begins slowly but soon it would infect humans fast, with or without symptoms. The elderly as well as those suffering from various diseases become Covid-19 positive. In the UK, they have serious symptoms and unfortunately die. However, a large number of people who have no underlying health conditions acquire the virus but do not show the symptoms.
Unlike climate change, Covid-19 would be serious because the elderly and patients with various health conditions would die in the end.
Threat of climate change increased over the last 8 years
Secondly, among these fourteen countries, the percentage of people saying that climate change is a major threat has increased over the last 8 years.
For example, in 2012 in the United States, 45% of people said that climate change was a major threat to their country. In 2020 it was increased to 62% – an increase of 17%.
Similarly, the percentages in the UK is 48% in 2013 and 71% in 2020 – a rise of 23%.
The maximum increase has happened in France. The percentages are 54% (2013) and 83% (2020) – a rise of 29%.
However, there have been increases in all countries because climate change is a rising threat.
Left have a greater concern about climate change
Thirdly, when asked about the impact of climate change, those on the ideological left had a greater concern than on the right. This is visible in the US where 89% of the ideological left said that climate change was a major threat whereas 40% of the right said the same thing, obtaining the left-right drift of 49%.
For the UK, the corresponding values were 86% and 62%, with the left-right drift of 24%.
Above the UK are Australia 76% and 46% (the left-right drift is 30%) and Canada 82% and 53% (the left-right drift is 29%).
Of the 14 countries who took part in the survey, South Korea had 86% and 80%, with the left-right drift of only 6%. Japan was not asked about political ideology.
Of all countries, the number from left is higher than the number of the right. In the US it is by a wider margin whereas in South Korea it is only slightly.
Coronavirus and climate change
Now, we have these three to reflect upon.
Like coronavirus, climate change is a major threat to the people of the 14 countries, giving a median value of 70%. Spain, France and Italy topped the list with 83%.
For the past 8 years, the value of this question is on the rise. For example, the value of people said that climate change was a significant threat had increased from 54% (2013) to 83% (2020) in France.
Of all fourteen countries, the ideological left had a major concern with climate change than the right. In the US the values are 89% and 40%.
With exactly one year to go, Conference of Parties (COP26) from 1 to 12 November in Glasgow has this statement to its heart: Coronavirus is deadly but climate change is deadlier!
Many globally are as concerned about climate change as about the spread of infectious diseases
You would find lesser left-right drift if you did this survey in developing countries.
These countries are under more immediate threats, and climate change hasn’t been politicised yet (and let’s hope it stays that way).
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Thank you, Saurab, for the comment. Yes, if you did this with the participation of the developing countries, this would be different.
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True..I think issues of food security, and poverty would rank higher though with climate change threats starting to become apparent, people world-wide are starting to see the connection between social and economic issues and climate change.
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