June 6, 2007
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Contact: Jerry Carey
Phone: (856) 566-6171
Study Finds Americans Optimistic About Their Own Futures
But Worried About Global Warming
and Pessimistic about the Future of America
NEWARK—A national study conducted by researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) of 2,000 Americans ranging in age from 18 to over 65 years shows that while Americans are overwhelmingly optimistic about their own futures, their views about the world and the future of the United States is getting bleaker.
Strikingly, the survey revealed that more than 80 percent of Americans believe global warming will be a problem of some degree, with nearly 60 percent thinking it will be a major problem. Of this 60 percent, 80 percent believe it will be a serious issue within the next two decades. This is a substantial increase in the percentage believing global warming will be a major problem in the next 20 years found in a similar survey conducted two years ago.
"The concerns of the American public regarding global warming emphasizes the fact that the United States government must begin to seriously consider and act on the effects of global warming," explained Donald B. Louria, MD, the survey's lead investigator and chair emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine at UMDNJ- New Jersey Medical School. "With the G8 Summit being held this week they have the unique opportunity to make tremendous inroads in deciding how we will handle this worldwide crisis."
American citizens also appear to have a bleak view about other global problems. More than three-fourths (76 percent) of Americans who participated in the nationally representative survey believe there will be a biological weapons attack and 65 percent think there will be a nuclear weapons attack within the next 20 years. A significant percentage believes these attacks will be on American soil.
Despite concern about global warming and the likelihood of nuclear or biologic warfare attacks on civilians, the overwhelming majority (78 percent) continues to feel optimistic about their own futures. This personal optimism was particularly marked among respondents 18 to 44 years of age (83 percent).
Unfortunately, the optimism about their own futures did not extend to their beliefs about the future of the United States. Only 44 percent were optimistic about the future of America. In every age group studied (18 to 24, 25 to 44, 45 to 64, over 65), compared to their views about their own futures, there was a huge drop in optimism and a concomitant rise in pessimism.
Overall, only 46 percent of those surveyed are optimistic about the future of the entire world and only 37 percent believe the major problems facing the world can be solved or minimized.
According to co-investigators Drs. Cheryl Kennedy and Marian Passannante, who are also from the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, "these results demonstrate an amazing disconnect in thinking. Respondents seem to be saying that terrible things are going to happen, but not to them."
As a nationally recognized expert on future societal issues, Dr. Louria cautions that society as we know it today could be drastically changed based on this thinking.
He says the pessimism about the future of America and the perception that we cannot solve the major problems facing us suggests that people are well on their way to losing confidence in the future. Their personal optimism is the only barricade against such a perception.
"If personal optimism about the future is eroded by an external event, we could be facing a societal catastrophe," explained Dr. Louria. "We could see a marked increase in anxiety and depression, as well as a host of undesirable behavioral consequences, including an excessive focus on immediate personal pleasure, increased alcohol and mind-altering drug use, risky sexual behavior, and even reckless driving practices if people don’t believe in the future of the country or the world."
The best way to avoid societal disaster, according to Dr. Louria, is for our national leaders to demonstrate convincingly that they are tending to the major problems facing the society in an energetic and effective fashion. If that is not done, the results for America could be catastrophic, Dr. Louria said.
To request an interview with Dr. Louria, please contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, at (856) 566-6171 or (973) 972-3000.
About Dr. Louria: Donald B. Louria, MD, is a Professor and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health at the UMDNJ - New Jersey Medical School, where he held the position of department chairman for 30 years. In recent years, as a nationally recognized expert in future societal issues, he has focused on the consequences of extraordinary life extension, the need for systems thinking, and the needed changes in an increasingly dysfunctional health care system.
UMDNJ is the nation's largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,500 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and its only school of public health, on five campuses. Last year, there were more than two million patient visits to UMDNJ facilities and faculty at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral HealthCare, a mental health and addiction services network.