This Is the Issue People Around the World Are Most Worried About

Hint: It’s not what people in the United States are afraid of.

An armed Iraqi Shiite soldier fighting ISIS. (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images)

Jul 18, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Economic instability or ISIS? Cyber attacks or climate change? Tensions in Russia, territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, or nuclear warheads in Iran?

World leaders face plenty of tough challenges, but according to the results of a new Pew Research Center survey of more than 45,000 people in 40 countries, there’s one issue that folks are more concerned about than any other: climate change.

Indeed, according to the survey results, people in 19 of the 40 countries told researchers they are very concerned about climate change, and they are more likely to be worried about the issue if they live in Asia, South America, or Africa.

Fears about ISIS came in second, with people in 14 out of 40 countries saying they’re “very concerned” about the extremist group. Residents of North America, Europe, and Australia tended to rank ISIS as their biggest worry.

Global economic instability came in third, with five out of 40 countries putting that issue first.

(Map: Courtesy PewGlobal.org)

So, Why Should You Care? Regions that are proving to be particularly vulnerable to climate change seem to have a heightened concern about the problem. “In Peru and Brazil, where years of declining deforestation rates have slowly started to climb, fully three-quarters [of respondents] express anxiety about climate change,” according to Pew. And in sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world that has also been decimated by deforestation, “a median of 59 percent [of respondents] say they are very concerned, including about half or more in all countries surveyed.”

Meanwhile, in Europe, according to Pew, “concern about climate change is more pronounced for those on the left of the political spectrum. The divisions are largest in the United Kingdom, where 49 percent of liberal residents are seriously worried about climate change but only 30 percent of conservatives are concerned.

(Map: Courtesy PewGlobal.org)

As for folks in the United States, only 42 percent of Americans are very concerned about climate change. The only issue that fewer Americans are worried about is what’s going on between China and its neighbors—only 30 percent of U.S. respondents listed that as a top concern.

Some of this lack of worry in the West about climate change could be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon. People in the U.S. might not see climate change as much of a threat because it’s not on cable news networks as often as stories about ISIS. After all, news about mass executions and beheadings fall under the old media adage If it bleeds, it leads.”

That said, our national love-hate relationship with the Kardashians and other celebrities also affects what magazines, websites, and television stations choose to cover. Stories about Beyoncé get 11 times more media coverage than deforestation and five times more coverage than stories about the health of the ocean, according to a report from the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage.

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And sometimes the issue is deliberately censored. In March, employees of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection revealed that official documents had apparently banned them from using the words “climate change.”