Thursday, November 29, 2012

Apocalypse Now? No.

Maybe I wear rose-colored glasses, but there appears to be a lot of apocalyptic thinking these days.  On the heels of Martin Rees' new institute to study technological Black Swans that may threaten the existence of the human race, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists had published this piece regarding similar threats posed by emerging diseases (such as new strains of influenza), human-induced climate change and computer hackers.

Not to dismiss these concerns too lightly (flu pandemics have killed millions, and climate change is happening right before our eyes), but all this paranoia may strike you as a little odd -- unless you know something about the science of risk communication and risk perception.  We should study potential threats that may bring about an early end to humanity.  But let's also address the very real and very pressing problems that are actually facing society now (including climate change):  there's a lot we could be doing to reduce morbidity and mortality in America, for instance, by addressing the root causes of the health problems stemming from the current epidemic of obesity and poor diet.  That's human nature:  we tend to fear those things we think we can't control or that we think are being imposed on us by others (even if they are small risks) but are just fine with the much greater risks we impose on ourselves  (smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, drinking too much, etc.).

Humans rarely make much sense when it comes to risk evaluation and analysis.  Want to make it a better world and improve your life?  Worry less.  Get more sleep.  Stop smoking.  Exercise.  Get all the vaccines your doctor recommends.  Walk more and drive less.  Lose weight just by cutting down on fast food, junk food and sugars and eating less meat.  Drink moderately, at most.  Reduce, conserve and recycle.  Hug your kids.  Work for peace.  Finish school.  Start a small business.

There are many things you can do, today.  Get started.

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