Friday, December 15, 2017
Perspective

A Little Perspective: Sad nations, climate change and five interesting facts

Most people know climate change is happening, and a majority agrees it is harming people in the United States. But most don't believe it will harm them. Part of this is the problem of risk perception.

Global warming is precisely the kind of threat humans are awful at dealing with: a problem with enormous consequences over the long term, but little that is sharply visible on a personal level in the short term. Humans are hard-wired for quick fight-or-flight reactions in the face of an imminent threat, but not highly motivated to act against slow-moving and somewhat abstract problems, even if the challenges that they pose are ultimately dire.

The effects of climate change, including sunny-day flooding, are being felt across Florida. But the state shows a distinct north-south split in the level of concern over global warming. Four southeast Florida counties — Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach — stand out because of their concerted effort to work on climate issues together and to discuss them in nonpartisan terms. In fact, a slim majority of people in Miami-Dade expect that global warming will harm them personally. That belief is shared by 41 percent of people in Hillsborough and 38 percent in both Pinellas and Pasco.

Nadja Popovich, John Schwartz and Tatiana Schlossberg, New York Times

A new report says Norway is the happiest country on Earth, Americans are getting sadder, and it takes more than just money to be happy. The rankings are based on income and life expectancy figures, along with how people rate social support, personal freedom, corruption and generosity. Together it is used to generate a happiness score from 1 to 10.

Happiest countries

1. Norway 7.54

2. Denmark 7.52

3. Iceland 7.5

4. Switzerland 7.49

5. Finland 7.47

6. Netherlands 7.38

7. Canada 7.32

8. New Zealand 7.32

9. Australia 7.28

10. Sweden 7.28

14. United States 6.99

Saddest countries

146. Yemen 3.59

147. South Sudan 3.59

148. Liberia 3.53

149. Guinea 3.51

150. Togo 3.49

151. Rwanda 3.47

152. Syria 3.46

153. Tanzania 3.35

154. Burundi 2.91

155. Central African Republic 2.69

"The answer to why Norwegians are happy — it's a bit boring — it's well-functioning institutions," explained Norwegian comedian Harald Eia. "The schools, health care, police, all the bureaucracy treat people with respect and that trickles down and makes us happy, makes us trust each other, makes us feel a part of the whole community. So it's very boring: bureaucrats are the secret to our happiness."

The United States was 14th in the latest ranking, and over the years Americans steadily have been rating themselves less happy.

America's happiness score dropped 5 percent over the past decade. Study co-author and economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University said that the sense of community, so strong in Norway, is deteriorating in the United States.

"We're becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising," Sachs said. "It's a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse."

It baffles Norwegian comedian Eia. "Why can't Americans who are the brightest people in the world do the same thing as we do to make the happiest people?" Eia asked. "I don't get it."

Seth Borenstein and Matti Huuhtanen, Associated Press

Five interesting facts

19%

Cut in Americans' beef consumption between 2005 and 2014, according to research released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

58,000

New residents moved to Tampa Bay last year, giving the area a population of 3 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the nation's fourth-highest gain.

Voice recognition software is getting better but still stumbles with accents, notes journalist Sonia Paul on Backchannel.com. Her mother was born in the Philippines, her father in India, and both parents speak English as a third language. "Alexa, play Que sera sera," her mother asked her new Amazon Echo. On the first try, Alexa answered: "I can't find the song 'Kiss your a-- era.' "

15,000

Steps a day might be needed — not 10,000 — for good health, according to a study of postal workers in Scotland.

4

Months, were once required to revise the definition of "God" in the unabridged Merriam-Webster dictionary.

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