Public perceptions of future threats to humanity: Why they matter



Publication Details

Eckersley, R. & Randle, M. (2020). Public perceptions of future threats to humanity: Why they matter. In R. Slaughter & A. Hines (Eds.), The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies 2020 (pp. 423-436). Brisbane: Foresight International.


There is growing scientific evidence that humanity faces a number of threats that jeopardise our future. Public perceptions of these threats, both of their risks and of reactions to them, are important in determining how humanity confronts and addresses the threats. This paper is based on a study that investigated the perceived probability of threats to humanity and different responses to the threats (nihilism, fundamentalism and activism), in four Western nations: the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Overall, a majority (fifty-four percent) rated the risk of our way of life ending within the next one hundred years at fifty percent or greater, and a quarter (twenty-four percent) rated the risk of humans being wiped out at fifty percent or greater. The responses were relatively uniform across countries, age groups, gender and education level, although statistically significant differences exist. Almost eighty percent agreed "we need to transform our worldview and way of life if we are to create a better future for the world" (activism). About a half agreed that "the world's future looks grim so we have to focus on looking after ourselves and those we love" (nihilism), and over one-third that "we are facing a final conflict between good and evil in the world" (fundamentalism). The findings offer insight into the willingness of humanity to respond to the challenges identified by scientists, and warrant increased consideration in scientific and political debate.

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