What 11 emerging countries think about increased diversity

Pew Research Center data shows that most people think diversity improves lives in their countries.

commuters in London

Multicultural commuters in Kingston Upon Thames town center, London.

  • Pew Research Center surveyed more than 28,000 people across 11 emerging countries.
  • Their data shows that most people believe different racial, national, and religious groups have improved the lives of people in their country.
  • Young people were more likely to see diversity in a positive light, as well as those with higher levels of education.

    • A glance at news headlines could lead one to believe our world has lost to tribalism and hate. In just the last few years, we've seen white supremacists march openly in American streets, extremist forces target cultural sites serving as reminders of humanity's shared heritage, places of worship terrorized, minorities blamed and assaulted over myths about novel coronavirus's origins, and leaders propose a myriad of attempts to reject refugees and migrants.

      This is a part of today's reality, but it's worth remembering that news headlines aren't a trend analysis. They are a collection of reports and instances that tell only one side of our story—often the scariest and most extreme part.

      Far from being pushed to the fringes, cosmopolitanism and the ethics of diversity may be enjoying a heyday according to Pew Research Center data from 11 emerging countries.

      Does diversity improve lives?

      The center surveyed more than 28,000 peoples across Columbia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Tunisia, Venezuela, Vietnam, South African, and the Philippines on their opinions of diversity within their borders. These countries were chosen based on their middle-income status, differing degrees of technology ownership, and high levels of migration (internal or external).

      The survey asked respondents how they viewed increasing numbers of other races, religions, and nationalities and what effect that had on the quality of life in their countries. Additional questions were tailored to a country's unique demographics and circumstances.

      For example, respondents in the Philippines were asked how favorably they viewed Muslims and Christians, while Tunisians were asked about Sunnis and Shiites. Others, such as Mexico and Lebanon, were asked about asylum seekers fleeing to their countries.

      Pew found that "[a]cross the 11 countries surveyed, more said their countries are better off thanks to the increasing number of people of different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities who live there." A minority said the increase made no difference, and an even smaller minority said their country was worse off.

      Testing tribalism

      crowd of Syrian refugees

      Lebanon and Jordan took in millions of Syrian refugees during the civil war, helping to explain their complex relationship with diversity in their borders.

      (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

      When looking at results from individual countries, the picture becomes much more nuanced. A majority of respondents from India, Columbia, the Philippines, Kenya, and Venezuela agreed with the statement that increased diversity made their countries better places to live. Conversely, a minority agreed with the same statement in Tunisia, Mexico, Jordan, and Lebanon.

      The reasons for these divergences seem to stem not only from deep historical divides but also current events. Lebanon, which held the most negative views of diversity among the eleven, took in an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, a massive influx for a country of around 7 million. Jordan too saw a massive wave of asylum seekers from the civil war; likewise, its respondents held that increasing numbers of different peoples made life in their country worse.

      Mexico has also seen a surge of asylum seekers from Central American countries, yet its overall view wasn't as unfavorable as either Jordan or Lebanon. However, it was the only country in the set to have a majority hold that increasing ethnic and religious diversity made no difference to the quality of life. And about half those surveyed did hold negative views toward refugees.



      But while current unrest in some regions has strained relations, it's not the whole story that refugees and migrants generate negativity toward others. Views differ widely.

      Kenya, for example, maintains large refugee camps housing asylum seekers from Somalia and South Sudan, yet half of the country's respondents believed this multicultural status improved life in their country. And a majority held approving opinions of refugees.

      Similarly, about half of respondents from Venezuela, Vietnam, and Jordan rated migrant and refugee groups favorably. Yes, Jordan.

      Though a majority of Jordanians believe increasingly diverse peoples make their country worse, they nonetheless hold agreeable views of refugees. The researchers speculate this divergence may stem from the fact that Jordan hosts two large refugee groups—recent Syrian refugees and Palestinian refugees who have been in the country since the conflicts of the mid-20th century. They found that Jordanians who self-identified as Palestinians viewed refugees more favorably.

      Getting used to each other

      So, what leads to improved views of multiculturalism? According to Pew's data, those with the most positive views on racial, ethnic, and religious diversity were those who interacted most with these groups. More contact equaled more positive views.

      In all of the countries, younger adults were more likely to interact with people of different backgrounds, and except for Jordan, they also held more favorable views of others. The same held true for those who attained higher levels of education.

      This data mirrors another Pew survey in which researchers asked Americans their views on increased racial and ethnic diversity.

      Around 58 percent of Americans said increasing numbers of diverse people would make the United States a better place to live. Only 9 percent said it would make the country worse, while 31 percent said it didn't make a difference. Opinions were split along partisan lines, with more Democrats viewing the statement favorably than Republicans.

      But like the 11 emerging countries, Americans varied by age and education, too. Fifteen percent of respondents 65 and older believed growing multiculturalism made the U.S. worse—the highest of any age group. And 70 percent of college graduates saw diversity in a positive light, compared to 45 percent of those with a high school diploma or less school.

      The survey's complete results can be found here, while the survey on American attitudes on diversity is here.

      A future toward acceptance

      These data suggest that the world hasn't succumbed to a new era of tribalism and hate. Far from it. The beliefs of cosmopolitanism and ethics of diversity are, in fact, spreading across many of the world's emerging countries and will likely increase as subsequent generations become more educated and integrated. That progress may be uneven, but it's real and measurable.

      An appreciation of, even desire for, diversity won't end the tragic events that generate eye-catching headlines, but it can make our shared futures more manageable. As Kwame Anthony Apiah wrote in his book "Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers": "I am urging that we should learn about people in other places, take an interest in their civilizations, their arguments, their errors, their achievements, not because that will bring us to agreement, but because it will help us get used to one another."

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      A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

      An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

      Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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      • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
      • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
      • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

      The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

      Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

      "It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

      The Barry Arm Fjord

      Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

      Image source: Matt Zimmerman

      The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

      Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

      Image source: whrc.org

      There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

      The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

      "This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

      Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

      What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

      Moving slowly at first...

      Image source: whrc.org

      "The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

      The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

      Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

      Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

      While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

      Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

      How do you prepare for something like this?

      Image source: whrc.org

      The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

      "To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

      In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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