from the world's big
Why Has 2015 Felt Like a Year of Fear, if We're So Safe?
Living longer, but worrying more. Why?
It was a fearful time. Murderous foreign terrorists were attacking with increasing frequency, slaughtering anyone they could. Their targets couldn’t be predicted. Defense seemed impossible. No one, and nowhere, felt safe. It seemed like this could be the most frightening time people had ever faced.
It was the early 800s in Northern Europe. The terrorists were Scandinavian Vikings.
Fear was everywhere. International travelers had brought home a horrible exotic new disease against which no one was immune. Victims bled and vomited and went mad with high fevers. No treatment worked. Everyone felt vulnerable, like this was one of the scariest times in which people had ever lived.
It was 1348. The disease was the Plague.
Dramatic changes in the weather around the world were literally threatening survival; unprecedented droughts in some areas, floods and storms in others. Temperatures changed so much that in vast regions crops couldn't grow. Food shortages led to riots and anti-government revolts. Hundreds of thousands of migrants left their homes in search of somewhere they could survive. For millions around the world this certainly was the most frightening time humans had ever faced.
It was 1816, the Year With No Summer, after the eruption of volcanic Mount Tambora dramatically altered the entire global climate.
So here we are at the end of an unsettling year, and yet again many feel that these are among the most frightening times humans have ever faced. The threats seem to be piling up. One terrorist attack after another. Ebola. Droughts and floods and killer storms associated with climate change. Dozens of wars, and even the reawakened threat of nuclear holocaust. Desperate refugees fleeing violence and oppression, triggering waves of anti-immigrant xenophobia and hostility. And all of this on top of widespread general worries about the future as the economy leaves more and more people behind, and a sense that governments can’t protect public health and safety because they’ve grown so corrupt or unable to act because of political polarization.
It has, in many ways, felt like a Year of Fear. Despite how safe we actually are.
We are living longer than ever. Progress has lifted billions out of poverty and hunger. The overall rate at which humans are killing other humans is at an all-time low. But the rationalists who cite these statistical realities and poo poo our paranoia are too, well, rational. Fear that sometimes exceeds the actual threat is the unavoidable product of a cognitive system designed first and foremost to survive, not to be the smartest kid in class or the best at objectively figuring things out. Job One for your brain from the moment you wake up is to get you and your genes safely to bed. We are biologically hardwired to be on constant alert for any signal of potential threat, protected by a subconscious warning system that operates on instinct and emotion and mostly beyond the control of conscious reason.
What’s more, we are hardwired to overdo fear. The cognitive psychologists call this Loss Aversion — giving extra emotional weight to the prospect of loss; loss of money, of property, or health and safety. As a result of this basic precautionary instinct, we worry about lots of things more than the evidence says we need to. Yes, this can seem irrational, and yes, it can lead to choices and behaviors that are bad for us; the divisive racism of fearing all Muslims as terrorists, arming ourselves to the teeth whenever we’re afraid (at least in the United States), or just generally worrying so much that our health suffers in profound ways because of the biological effects of persistent stress.
But despite the dangers our emotion-based risk-perception system can cause, this seemingly irrational system persists because it works. Excessive worry may get us in trouble from time to time, but a default that favors precaution helps keep us alive. We tend to see the dark side in danger because that protects us.
So sure, the statistical likelihood of being a victim of terrorism or mass murder is infinitesimal, and Ebola can’t spread without physical contact, and yes, modern medicine and cleaner food and water and modern technology have given us longer lives and greater opportunities for a better quality-of-life than ever. But against those rational truths lies a system of risk perception based largely on affect and instinct that tends to see danger around every corner.
That’s why we so readily abandon our morality and turn into bigots when we are afraid. It’s why we fear Ebola more than the flu. It’s why some of us are more afraid of guns than cars, which kill four times as many people in the U.S. as are shot to death. It’s why politicians, and businesses, and the news media, have been and always will be able to succeed by appealing to fear.
And our precautionary risk-perception system explains why across history humans have so frequently felt like the times they’re living in are the most dangerous times humans have ever faced. We don’t consciously think about the bigger picture and how good things are overall. We are predisposed to pay more attention to what threatens us. And we don’t compare the present to the past. We only care about what threatens us, now.
We should fight to keep this in check, and reason can help. Careful objective thinking can also help us stay safe. It can even help us recognize the mistakes we sometimes make when we worry too much, or not enough, and minimize those mistakes
But there is only so much conscious control we can exert over our powerful instinctive survival system. Worry is just a part of who we are. Now go and have a safe new year. Odds are you will.
Image; GettyImages, Kinson C Photography
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.