The world fears the US more than Russia or China

Who’s afraid of climate change?
Who’s afraid of climate change?
Image: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

It’s been a hot few months—some of the hottest in recorded history, in fact—and the world is worried about it, according to the latest report on global security threats published today (Aug. 1) by the Pew Research Center.

Given eight problems facing the world and asked to choose the two that worried them most, 61% of the nearly 42,000 people interviewed in 38 countries named climate change. The only threat ranked higher than a epochal natural change that could result in sea levels rising by as much as six feet by 2100 was ISIS, feared by 62% of respondents.

That’s a significant change from the the results of a similar survey in 2015, when climate change still led the list of the world’s worries—but with a much lower score. Then, 46% of the people surveyed named climate change as one of their top two concerns, ahead of global economic instability (42%) and ISIS (41%).

In the latest survey, people in France, Italy, and Germany feel especially threatened by ISIS: respectively, 88%, 85%, and 77% of respondent named it as one of their top two threats. In the US, ISIS was listed as a top-two concern by 74% of respondents.

Overall, climate change worries slightly fewer people, but it was the top concern for Spain (89% respondents), Sweden (64%), and Canada (60%).

Perhaps more interesting is that people don’t seem particularly worried about the big international powers traditionally thought of as threatening. Less than a third of the people interviewed put concern over China or Russia’s power and influence in their top two.

The US, on the other hand, was perceived as rather more worrisome, landing on 35% of respondents’ top-two lists. Notably, the US’s neighbors seem especially worried about the country’s power: in Mexico, 61% of respondents considered the US a major threat, as did 38% of Canadian respondents. In Turkey, respondents counted US power as representing the single biggest global threat. Even in Europe, where most countries were generally more concerned about Russia than the US, there were some countries—Germany and Spain—that expressed more worry about the White House than the Kremlin.

That’s a striking finding in a world where there are growing international tensions between these three super powers. In the last week alone, the US expanded sanctions against Russia in response to accusations that Russia interfered with last year’s US presidential elections; in retaliation, Russia expelled 755 US diplomats (paywall) from the country. Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump admonished China for its failure to contain North Korea’s military exploits. It’s a rather distressing state of international affairs—and though the US likes to think of itself as the arbiter of justice, it seems the rest of the world isn’t sold on that vision.