A Better Future for the Planet Earth

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Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind (2012-2016)

The review of the development of the Environmental Doomsday Clock for a quarter century

Introductory remarks

Since 1992, we have been surveying the sense of impending crisis over the degradation of the natural environment by addressing global environmental experts. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support for the activities of the Asahi Glass Foundation. This chapter is designed to further respondents' understanding of the Questionnaire on the Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind survey by briefly describing its history and the changes in the research methods. It also aims to explain how the survey results may be interpreted and appreciated" We determine that we will further enhance the quality of the content in the years to come, and we are grateful if you wish to continue to respond the questionnaire as you did before.

Fig. 1 Changes in the Environmental Doomsday Clock (world average)

Fig. 1 Changes in the Environmental Doomsday Clock (world average)

1. Purpose of establishing the Questionnaire on Environmental Problems and the Survival of Humankind

We introduced the questionnaire on the occasion of creating the Blue Planet Prize in 1992. The purpose for introducing the questionnaire was to arouse further interest in global environmental issues among the public through a survey targeting world environmental experts. For more than a quarter of a century, although modestly, we have made a specific contribution to the enhancement of the world's environmental awareness. The total number of respondents to the questionnaire was about 1 thousand for the very first survey in 1992, but it quickly fell into the hundreds. Since 2010, we have earnestly increased exposures to the environmental experts, the number of responses has increased, and currently, we secure more than 2,000 respondents per year.

Fig. 2 Changes in the Number of Respondents (world)

Fig. 2 Changes in the Number of Respondents (world)

2. History of the evolution of the questionnaire

*The outline of the questionnaire

The questionnaire consists both of "ongoing questions," such as questions asking respondents to tell the "crisis time" of the Environmental Doomsday Clock and also of "nonrecurring questions" such as the particular environmental problems that have attracted attention in the fiscal year in which the survey is distributed. Today, we added some "ongoing questions" beside those focused on the "crisis time." These new questions constitute a type of fixed-point observation intending to report changes in the status quo of particular environmental situations.

A. The "crisis time" of the Environmental Doomsday Clock

In the first year of the survey (1992), we introduced a clock dial consisting of four quadrants representing a particular attitude toward environmental crisis and asked respondents to express their respective attitudes by indicating the appropriate time at a particular quadrant: the first quadrant (0: 01 to 3: 00 -> Barely Concerned), the second quadrant (3: 01 to 6: 00 -> Slightly Concerned), the third quadrant (6: 01 to 9: 00 -> Fairly Concerned), and the fourth quadrant (9: 01-12: 00 -> extremely Concerned) (see the diagram below).

Fig. 3 Diagram of the Doomsday Clock and its quadrons

Fig. 3  Diagram of the Doomsday Clock and its quadrons

The respondents selected and answered a specific time from the range of 00: 01 to 12: 00. We have averaged the individual "crisis times" that we received from the worldwide respondents and reported it as the "crisis time."
Since 2003, to infer the background of the respondents' logic of the determination of "crisis time," we have asked respondents to choose the three issues from the list of "concerned issues" about which they were most concerned (see the next paragraph for details) that we provide at the questionnaire. Then we asked respondents to rank the three items that most concerned them. Ultimately, we calculated each "crisis time" as a weighted average according to respondent's ranking.

B. An introduction to the Environmental Issues ("concerned issues") in Determining the Environmental Doomsday Clock Time

We introduced the so-called "concerned issues" in order to achieve a more qualitative association between the "concerned issues" and the "crisis time" humanity finds itself facing.
Since 2003, we have offered a list of "concerned issues" to support respondents' estimation of "crisis time." To create the list of "concerned issues," we selected environmental items such as climate change (8 items related to Agenda 21) and asked respondents to select the three items that most influenced their decision about "crisis time."
This reformation helped us to improve the interpretation of yearly fluctuations of "crisis time." (However, this measure still lacks information about how respondents rank the three selected items by importance.)

In 2011, the list of "concerned issues" was updated to 11 items with reference to the elements of Planetary Boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009 Ecology and Society 14 (2): 32). At the same time, to shed light on the decision-making processes of the respondents, we asked respondents to rank the top three items that they selected by the level of influence each had upon the "crisis time" that they estimated. Then, we weighted the "crisis times" of the top three items (1st: 50%, 2nd: 30%, 3rd place 20%) and calculated the weighted average of individual "crisis times" as the "crisis time" (see the diagram below).
This change of the determination process of "crisis time" offers us a much clearer understanding of respondents' motives as they determine what "crisis time" means to them and leads to a more quantitative overall definition of "crisis time." Furthermore, we calculated the "crisis time" for each "concerned issue." At the same time, we introduced a bubble graph as a powerful visual aid through which it became possible to precisely represent the trend of the world as a whole and also the more individual regional or country-level trends; it also helps to convey how the respondents see the current environmental situation facing the world (please refer to the bubble graphs below).

Fig. 4 The standard question asking about the "crisis time"

Fig. 4 The standard question asking about the "crisis time"

Fig. 5 Bubl Graph: "Crisis Times" correlated with "Concerned Issues" (world)

Fig. 5 Bubl Graph:  "Crisis Times" correlated with "Concerned Issues"  (world)

Fig. 6 Transition of "Crisis Times" /"Concerned Issues" 2012 – 2017 (world)

Fig. 6  Transition of  "Crisis Times" /"Concerned Issues" 2012 – 2017  (world)

Table 1 Regional distribution of "crisis times" correlated with "concerned issues

Table 1 Regional distribution of "crisis times" correlated with "concerned issues

As for the new set of "concerned issues," currently (2018) we offer climate change, biosphere integrity (biodiversity), change in terrestrial utilization (land use), biochemical flow (environmental pollution), water resource, population, food, lifestyle, and society/economy/and the environment. We chose those items related to the latest Planetary Boundaries thesis (Steffen et al. Science 13 Feb 2015 vol. 347, issue 6223). Furthermore, each "concerned issue" listed in the questionnaire is related to the relevant development goals of the SDGs.

Table 2 Environmental issues to be taken into account ("Concerned Issues)


C. "Ongoing and nonrecurring questions" of the Questionnaire

*Ongoing question item

Between 1993 and 2010, we added a special "ongoing question" pertaining to a set of environmentally important items, selected by us, from the goals of Agenda 21 and asked respondents about the yearly progress of each item. Since 2011, we have observed and reported transitions of environmental "crisis time" across generations.

Fig. 7 Shifts in the "crisis times" by Generation


*Nonrecurring question items

We formerly selected every year a number of nonrecurring question items that were appropriate to ecological concerns that had gathered particular attention in that year. We abolished this type of nonrecurring question in 2018. However, we will resurrect this if necessary and desired.

3. What comes next

Global environmental problems such as CO2 emissions require a prompt response from society as a whole. For this reason, arousing more people's attention to environmental issues has become a more important goal than ever. Increasing people's awareness about the earth's environment is paramount in the light of the objectives of this questionnaire, and we renew our determination to further increase the number of respondents by improving the quality of the survey contents.

Past Articles

Questionnaire A21-Year Summary

Questionnaire 15-Year Summary

Questionnaire 10-Year Summary

Questionnaire Five-Year Summary

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