The Blog

We're Paranoid About the Middle East - and Overlooking the Real Problems

Research carried out by Pew Research Center has discovered what the global community fears the most - climate change. Overall, concerns about the environment and how humans impact upon it were most pressing in nineteen out of the forty countries that took part.

In Britain however, the greatest perceived threat comes instead from terrorist group ISIS. Sixty-six percent of adults cited the actions of the militant organisation as their greatest concern amongst global issues. The second highest ranked fears are Iran's nuclear programme and tensions with Russia, displaying that our greatest worries all lie in the field of foreign aggression; issues such as economic instability and climate change fall far behind.

Despite being part of an overall minority, Britain shares its concerns with much of Europe - Italy, France, Germany and Spain are even more worried about ISIS than we are. But although the threats and harrowing videos released by the terrorist group are intimidating, that should surely be of greater concern to countries within ISIS' sphere of operations, such as Lebanon, who top the list with a figure of 84%. And indeed, despite recent events such as the Tunisian beach massacre, more domestic terror attacks have been carried out in the last twenty years by the Real IRA than Islamist extremists.

So why the fascination with the Middle East? After all, it isn't as if climate change is a new phenomenon anymore, or that it doesn't feature in the news stories we read. If we have become desensitised to the threat of global warming, why does the possibility of terror attacks still cause us such fear?

Firstly, the manner of how the two subjects are reported upon differs enormously. Climate change doesn't attract readers; we've heard it all before, so we'd rather not start the day by reminding ourselves that we are damaging the planet that we and all other species wholly rely on. Headlines that sell provide what people want to read. As support for certain parties grew in this year's General Election, so the tabloids catered for them, bolstering nationalist and anti-immigration sentiments. A quick scan of the previous week's Daily Mail archives reveals thirty-seven articles with headlines containing the words migrant or immigrant, forty with ISIS and sixty-six with Islam. No prizes for guessing how the content reads.

If sensationalist media is one reason, the other is even more depressing: the nature of the issue itself. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why a terrorist organisation that has declared war on almost all of civilization is scary. Again, it is logical and sensible to be scared of ISIS on a daily basis if you live in Lebanon, but not when you live somewhere where the chances of you becoming the victim of a terror attack on the way to work are close to nil. Climate change, on the other hand, does not threaten a small area of the world, it threatens all of it. It doesn't just target non-Muslims, it targets everyone. And most importantly, it won't kill us - it will kill our children and our grandchildren.

In the PRC's article which features alongside their poll results, they suggest that the reason concern for climate change is most widespread in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa is because these are the two regions most affected by global warming and its consequences. In other words, we aren't prepared to even worry about something until it is directly impacting upon us. The reaction towards the two issues differs in Britain because the media tells us we can use one as an excuse, and leave the other for future generations to sort out. If only climate change could be blamed for taking up hospital beds or stealing jobs - we might actually try and do something about it.