Surveying Perceptions Of The Future Among Kiwis ~ Can We See Where The World Is Heading?

All the major political parties in New Zealand agree that preservation of a clean,

sustainable environment is an essential component of good governance and that pollution

(specifically including air pollution)

poses an enormous global threat to our way of life and our future.

They have each published good intentions for applying scientific research and technological development

as a key element to meet the challenges of population growth and industrialization.

But what do the people in the street think about these issues?

A group of 134 adults were quizzed in an opinion poll to survey perceptions among adult New Zealanders

concerning the direction our civilization is heading.

These were mostly selected at random in public places in New Plymouth and towns of Taranaki,

however a group of 20 people were specifically targeted to represent the Christian community as a subsection of the population.

These were all practicing members of a local church.

Another 10 members of the Muslim community were approached to hear opinions on global issues from the perspective of Islam.

It was interesting to find that a good majority of people in this region are keenly aware of global affairs.

Only 32 of the 134 people approached declined the invitation

[saying they were not interested in global affairs or don’t know enough to comment]

so the group would be fairly representative of Kiwis in this district.

The participants were asked to mention the three most serious problems they felt the world is facing today,

i.e., global concerns they thought needed urgent attention to improve the future of our civilization.

The most common concerns [in this order of frequency] were

(1) poverty and hunger, (2) civil unrest, terrorism and wars, (3) supply of energy, (4) over population and (5) industrial pollution.

One of the outstanding features of the survey was the lack of confidence in global political leadership

– only 10% believed that global leaders had the right plan of action to solve the world’s problems.

77% expressed no confidence in the world’s current leadership,

13% were unsure of this.

Concerning the future outlook, 59% don’t think the world’s leading politicians have any foresight

and only 21% of people surveyed think the politicians really know where our civilization is heading.

20% of respondents were unsure of the foresight among global political leadership.

78% say that no one knows where we are heading, not even the world’s leading scientists.

Very few participants (only 12%) expect any drastic change in political leadership

and the current state of uncertainty and trouble on the international scene.

The respondents of the two religious subgroups were also particularly concerned about declining moral standards

and deterioration of society through loss of family/community values.

On the question of industrial pollution and climate change,

only 36% of all respondents believe this is a real threat.

This is in line with international surveys that show the current popular belief seems to be that environmentalists are melodramatic

– just “crying wolf.”

In contrast, the two religious subgroups were more concerned – 75% believe that industrial pollution poses a real threat.

Opinions on the question of whether technology is the solution or part of the problem were mixed

and small differences in percentages of opinions between Christians, Muslims and the rest of the population surveyed were insignificant.

Only 35% believe that technology is solving the world’s problems without creating new problems and 27% are unsure.

As expected, a high percentage of the Christian subgroup (80%) believes that “Christianity” has the answer to the world’s problems,

while most of the Muslims (8 out of 10) believe that Islam provides the answer.

Only 12% of the general population thought that Christianity or any of the other religions (8%) have the answer to our problems.

It’s quite probable that the people comprising this minority (12%) were members of a religious community anyway

and included in the survey through the random sampling process.

On the question of whether we are living in the last days of our civilization,

the majority of the Muslim subgroup (6 out of 10) believe we are,

Christians were almost equally split between the YES, the NO and the UNSURE positions,

while the general population were skeptical – only 4% said YES, 15% were unsure and the rest (81%) said quite confidently NO.

The future outlook of Kiwis in general is still surprisingly optimistic.

In spite of the low level of confidence in the world’s leading politicians,

not much trust in the ability of science and technology to save the planet and their almost unanimous skepticism concerning religion,

survey results show that nearly half the general population (48%) feel the future looks brighter than the present.

Another 26% expect the future to be no different than the present.

Only 36% feel pessimistic about the future. In comparison, 11 out of 20 Christians and 6 out of 10 Muslims questioned

felt that the future of our civilization seemed more gloomy than the present.

Three out of 20 and 2 out of 10 respectively thought it looked brighter than the present.

An examination of some pertinent global trends can be enlightening.

The World Energy Outlook report by BP (January 2011) and the International Energy Agency report (IEA November 2011)

predict that global energy demand and consumption will continue to rise rapidly over the next 10 years.

The reports focus on long term trends but reading from the graphical data provided,

one notices that approximately 25% growth is expected over the next 10 years alone.

The data is based on world population growth (approximately 1.7% per annum) and market trends since the year 1983.

This outlook should be raising major concerns among global leaders.

Almost every global measure of environmental pollution, occupational disease,

depletion of natural resources and loss in biodiversity correlates with global energy consumption.

This is exactly what one would expect from a logical cause and effects analysis.

For decades almost every Environmental Protection Agency

has been trying to draw attention to the on-going damage currently being done to the environment.

The fact that we have not yet had to pay for all the damage has allowed governments and the common people to become complacent.

We are reaching the stage where the world’s population is still rapidly expanding,

at a time when we are about to experience a production peak and decline in essential natural resources including stocks of fish,

raw materials for fertilizers, wild game, and affordable fresh water and fossil fuels.

Official projections and graphs of future global production of these essentials are still quite optimistic.

But a close look at the source data for the graphs shows that the statisticians base their projections on speculations about the future.

They assume that because we have always been able to find more oil and gas, deeper fishing grounds,

new raw materials for fertilizers and affordable energy and water purification technology we will continue to do so for generations in future.

In previous centuries when the industrial revolution accelerated population growth in regions with limited resources,

overpopulation was relieved through conquest and expansion into new territories, islands and continents with low density populations.

We no longer have that option.

The solutions we develop with modern technology are now introducing other problems we need to fix as well,

so the problems themselves are multiplying as a result. None of these global Institutions and Corporations [like BP, the IEA and the UN]

have put all the data together and constructed the big picture of the future

– the picture that draws a connection between energy consumption and environmental damage.

Unfortunately all the modern technological developments are responsible for the escalating energy demand,

and the escalating energy demand is precisely the cause of the original problems we were trying to solve.

It’s easy to be forever optimistic when speculating with isolated groups of data.

But a logical analysis and correlation of the global statistics

indicates that creating and applying more technology has become a tail-chasing exercise.

Unlimited population growth on a planet with limited resources and dumping grounds cannot continue indefinitely,

like a grand Ponzi scheme or house of cards, without incurring serious penalties.

We cannot escape this conclusion any longer.

Of course alarmist predictions like this have been misleading in the past, but now it seems they were never wrong, only premature.

Most governments have established and continue to fund their local Environmental Protection Agencies.

But these efforts are typically reactive and have limited success in tackling global concerns.

The leaders of our global village have not yet published any comprehensive, proactive, economically viable plan of action

with evidence based monitoring to demonstrate progress towards achievable goals for halting the escalation of pollution,

proliferation of toxic wastes, loss in biodiversity and conservation of raw materials,

natural resources and affordable energy for future generations.

The challenge is growing by the year and it is anyone’s guess if they ever will.

Ensuring enough supplies for present demands is the best they can do.

So the sceptical attitude of those captured in this opinion survey towards the leading politicians of the world is probably well founded.

A majority of those surveyed (56% combined) think that New Zealanders in general are not fully aware of what’s going on in the world.

But perhaps Kiwis are more aware than we thought.

There were two rather interesting [unexpected] results of the survey.

Firstly, one wonders why the religious people are somewhat more gloomy about the future of our civilization?

Are they better informed or more realistic than the others?

Or is this gloomy expectation because the founders of their particular religions described a more gloomy scenario for the world in the latter days?

The second puzzling question is this –

On what are non-religious Kiwis basing their optimism?

Most were quick to list and describe their concerns and the problems facing the world,

especially after hearing what some other respondents had said.

The question concerning the overall future outlook was left until the end of the list on purpose.

This was to allow people to consider, discuss and reflect on the issues during the interview.

It was hoped that this would enable them to come to a recollected, self-informed decision.

In spite of the lack of confidence in the scientists, politicians and religions of the world, Kiwis are generally undaunted.

The proverbial “She’ll be alright!” seems to prevail.

Do New Zealanders simply not see the problems as particularly serious or relevant to their lives?

Or is this a case of irrational optimism

– a mind set that characterizes people when the predicament is not that good but the options for changing anything

are neither promising nor practical.

Is that the case for our nation today ?



Engineer and psychologist

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