Terrorism has been dominating the news lately. There are terrorist attacks happening daily worldwide which go largely unreported, but the latest brutal string of attacks in France, Germany and Belgium have brought the threat much closer to home.
The British government warns that the threat of a terrorist attack in the UK is currently ‘severe’. (Incidentally, since this alert system was initiated in 2006, the threat has been mostly either ‘severe’ or ‘critical’, and has never been lower than ‘substantial’.)
When bombarded daily with doom-laden headlines and tragic accounts of attacks, the threat seems ominous and imminent and it is very easy to get scared.
Shock, outrage and grief are good responses which move us to address the global issues and show support to those who are suffering. Fear makes us selfish and insular, steals our joy and causes us to make irrational decisions fuelled by a desire to protect ourselves and those close to us.
So let’s step back, take a deep breath and regain a little perspective.
In the past year (28 July 2015-28 July 2016), 217 people were killed in terrorist attacks in France. That’s a horrific and heartbreaking number, although still far lower than many countries in other parts of the world. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Britain was to suffer that same number of fatalities in terrorist attacks over the next year.
There are 65 million people in Britain, so that would make your chances of dying in a terrorist attack 1 in 300,000.*
In other words, even if Britain was hit with the same disastrous level of terror attacks as France, you would still be really, really, really unlikely to die in one.
Let’s put that number into context.
You have approximately a 1 in 398 chance of dying of cancer†, and a 1 in 419 chance of dying of a cardiovascular disease‡ in a given year (not taking into account risk factors such as age and lifestyle).
That means you are 1,467 times more likely to die of a cardiovascular disease or cancer than in a terrorist attack.
You also have approximately a:
- 1 in 36,620 chance of dying in a transport accident**
- 1 in 99,237 chance of dying in a step or stairs-related accident
- 1 in 205,696 chance of choking to death
- 1 in 274,262 chance of dying in a fire††
- 1 in 299,539 chance of accidentally drowning (almost exactly the same risk as dying in a terrorist attack)
So you are 8 times more likely to die in a transport accident than in a terrorist attack.
And you are 3 times more likely to die falling down the stairs.
To add to the morbid list, you also have approximately a:
- 1 in 2,241,379 chance of dying in the bath
- 1 in 7,222,222 chance of falling off a cliff
- 1 in 13,000,000 chance of being killed by a cow
- 1 in 21,666,667 chance of being killed by a dog
Alternatively, you could focus on the fact that in 2015, 64,470,435 people in Britain managed to avoid death altogether, meaning that in a given year you have more than 99% chance of not dying at all!
Our society is one of the safest and most presperous the world has ever seen. Let’s be grateful for the many privileges we have that so many do not.
Let’s not allow fear to cloud our vision and distract us from the good we can do in the world.
*Rounded up from 299,539
†Based on Cancer Research statistics from 2014
‡Based on BHF statistics from 2015
**Based on transport mortality statistics from 2014
††Based on 2010 mortality statistics
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