A pessimistic world view and the media

Belgians in their 20s and 30s aren’t getting cheerful from what they see happening in the world,. This was the result from the research of sociologist Mark Elchardus (Dutch). He wrote the book ‘Voorbij het Narratief van Neergang’ (Beyond the Narrative of Downfall). It is based on 2,000 interviews with Belgians in their 20s and 30s, taken at the end of 2013. The result seems to be that they have a rather negative world view:

  • 92.1% fears more disasters caused by global warming
  • 84.8% thinks that open borders threatens our own workforce
  • 90.9% sees lowering of pensions
  • 82.8% poorer people becoming poorer and riches becoming richer
  • 68.8% fears more victims of terror

At the end, just in passing, was said that those young adults, while having a pessimistic world view, have it socio-economically at least as good as their parents and they look optimistic towards their own future. To me it sound like they are thinking these negative things will not effect them that much.

At that age, I wasn’t much different. I, and my peers, had it at least as good, maybe even better, than our parents. We also heard plenty of doom stories around us. Mostly known are the stories about an imminent overpopulation, the new ice age, acid rain, the ozone hole, the immigration wave from South Europe/North Africa, consequences of the aging of our population and many more. The topics that the current young adults worry about are rather similar to those that we had when we had at their age. Only the events differ.

It doesn’t seem if they are the last to do so. The children of today are growing up in a world with its own scares like climate scare, climate disruption, the current immigration wave from the middle East,.. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But that wasn’t actually the thing that caught my initial attention. It was this: the contrast of their pessimistic view of the world and their optimistic view towards their own future could be explained by the news coverage in the media, according to Elchardus.

I think he hits the nail on the head. Looking backwards, the doom scenarios that I was subjected to in my childhood and young adult life, seemed to be exaggerated to say the least. The overpopulation doom story might had some legitimate background, but since then (1950s-1960s) the population of the world more than doubled, yet the horror scenarios that were projected to the turn of the century, didn’t materialize. The new ice age that was a hot (pun intended) topic in the 1970s and yes there were some bitterly cold periods in the 1960s-1970s, but that horrible new ice age didn’t materialized either. Even morphed into global warming. Acid rain was presented as if there was a large scale dying of forests in Germany and acidification of pristine lakes in Finland, yet afterwards it seems to be highly exaggerated by the media.

This has some implications in our current times. Hyping those stories in a one-sided way gave the impression that it was worse than it actually was, but after a while all those hypes disappeared quietly from sight, yet replaced with a new hype-du-jour. Leaving the public with the impression that it got worse and worse every time.

The media doesn’t seem to have learned something from history. The current environmental hype is the global warming/climate change/climate disruption doom story which is still reported very one-sided in the media. It is this one-sided reporting that makes the alarm. It will be hard to be alarmed, knowing that climate science is studying a complex, coupled and chaotic system which results in quite some uncertainty, knowing that there is only a couple decades of reliable data, knowing that we came out of a cold period which gives the possibility that (part) of this increase is natural, knowing that CO2 influence on temperature is logarithmic, knowing that the previous and current climate models don’t do a good job of simulating reality,…

But what about the generation pictured in this research? Well, they probably will do just fine and within 20 – 30 years from now, they will start wondering why on earth the next generation has such a pessimistic world view…

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