Archive for the ‘ Global Issues ’ Category

Statistical Numbing. Why Millions Can Die, and We Don’t Care. | Big Think

Four year-old Khafra was near death three days ago when he was brought to the refugee camp hospital. He was emaciated, his ribs showing through his taut dry skin. He panted for breath. His desperate eyes bulged. His mother Alyan could only sit at his side and watch, helpless, sad beyond comprehension, but herself too malnourished to cry. Doctors are still not sure Khafran can be saved.

The famine in the Horn of Africa has left more than 12 million people malnourished, including half of Somalia’s population. The U.N. says 640,000 Somali children are starving, and more than 29,000 children in southern Somalia have starved to death in the last 90 days.

Which of those two paragraphs was more emotionally powerful? It should have been the second, shouldn’t it, based on the scale of the suffering, 640,000 starving kids to one? But the first paragraph almost certainly carried more emotional punch. The famine in northeast Africa is once again forcing us to confront the truth about the way our brains work, a profound truth with sobering implications. As smart as we think we are, as rational as we believe our powerful brains enable us to be, our perceptions are the product of both reason and emotion, a combination of the facts and how those facts feel, and sometimes this emotional/instinctive/affective system can produce perceptions with tragic consequences.

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How to feed a hungry world : Nature

With the world’s population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world’s population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world’s population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.

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