November 03, 2016

What are we afraid of? Credit: DVIDSHUB / Flickr Creative Commons

Americans have plenty to be scared of, but are our fears misplaced? Polls have shown that terrorism is consistently among Americans' greatest fears, while issues like guns and climate change often barely register. Juliette Kayyem, former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security and host of the Security Mom podcast, talks with us about what we shouldn’t - and should - be afraid of.

Three Takeaways:

  • Kayyem says that the “purposeful, targeted aspects” of terrorism give it a unique place in our national psyche. Because groups like ISIS specifically want to attack and kill Americans, we've developed an outsize fear of terror, rather than focusing on things like guns violence, which is much more commonplace.
  • 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were watershed moments for how we think about terrorism and national security. 9/11 shattered the idea that attacks only happen “over there,” and led to the creation of the modern national security apparatus. Four years later, Katrina demonstrated that by narrowing our focus to one “high-consequence, low probability” threat like terrorism, national security agencies had left the country open to other, more probable threats like natural disasters.
  • According to Kayyem, climate change is our greatest looming national security threat. “The movement of people and the fight for resources is why wars are fought,” she says. “And that’s what we anticipate.... A long-term threat like that may not keep us up at night, but it’s why the national security apparatus is very much focused on the warming of the Earth, not just as a green issue, or a mother nature issue. It’s actually about defense and national security.”

More Reading:

  • Juliette Kayyem discusses Zika, “The Ferguson Effect” and national security on WGBH’s Greater Boston.
  • CNN visualizes the massive gap between gun deaths in the US and Americans killed by terrorism.
  • Time Magazine on why climate change is “the mother of all” national security risks.

environment, Kara Miller, WGBH, Juliette Kayyem, pri, science and tech

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