Climate change and the scarcity of drinking water are the greatest dangers threatening the future of humanity

In a survey conducted by Forsense in February 2016, half the respondents considered climate change to be a major risk for the future of humanity. Many of the sources of danger seen as particularly serious were associated with natural and environmental challenges. The lack of drinking water fit for human consumption was in third place among the most frequently mentioned dangers.

In recent years, Forsense has conducted a number of surveys to assess public opinion concerning the risks threatening the future of humanity. In the study conducted in 2013 and repeated in the autumn of 2014, respondents were asked to pick and rank three items from a list of nine economic and environmental problems facing human civilization: the ones that they believed would present the greatest challenges in the next 20 years. In both surveys, extreme climate and weather conditions were marked as the top issue by most people.

The survey conducted in May 2015 showed that half the respondents are concerned about the extreme effect of climate change on the life of humankind. Knowing that, it is understandable that in the latest survey, climate change was ranked first among 12 risks by most people, with almost half the respondents putting it in one of the top three places. The ’premier’ position of climate change is explained by people’s personal experience as well as the fact that the consequences of the phenomenon increasingly appear in the news and in the various media. The second highest ranked risk was mass migration, which is clearly connected to the refugee crisis that has now continued for almost a year.

All in all, the survey identified five exceptionally important risks, seen as significant by at least 30 percent of the respondents. Two of those – climate change and the lack of drinking water fit for human consumption – is largely related to nature in its impact, while the other three have closer ties to social and political events and processes. Five additional risks were also mentioned by a significant proportion of respondents, which at present primarily impact the Third World.

Although not decisively, the individual risk factors that people mention do exhibit a correlation with the socio-economic status of respondents. The data set indicates that educational qualifications are the most important factor: those with less schooling often structure the individual risks according to a completely different pattern to those with secondary or even higher education qualifications. Those who have not completed secondary school are most afraid of mass migration (39 percent), with only 37 percent mentioning climate change, while among graduates, 53 percent mentioned climate change (and that item ranked well above all the others among people with higher educational and even secondary qualifications). We observed that, compared to people with higher qualifications, those with a lower level of education find the factors with a spectacular presence in the media to be more dangerous (such as terrorist actions, epidemics and natural disasters), while a greater proportion of those with higher qualifications mention factors whose comprehension requires a wider scope of knowledge (climate change, overpopulation, and the loss of community values that are important for mankind).

A particularly high proportion of regular internet users mentioned climate change, while among those who obtain their information from the traditional media, particularly those who view television news, the fear of mass migration is overrepresented.

The frequency of individual risk factors primarily depends on the interest of respondents in ‘worldly matters’. In relation to that, the deepest rift is in terms of educational qualifications: the higher the level of education, the more likely the respondent is to realise the weight of the less visible, more remote and less mediatized risks such as climate change or overpopulation.