5. The extinction crisis
Perhaps you’ve heard stories about how close many of our most well-known animals are to extinction: 97 percent of the world’s tigers have been wiped out in the last century and the World Wildlife Fund warns the remainder could be gone in a decade or two. Ditto for elephants, sharks, and even the tiny honeybee, which is essential for pollinating our food sources.

But these are just the high-profile examples. Escaping the broader public’s attention, warns the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is the possibility of “30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century.” Not just animals, but plants that are critical for human life. Rain forests, coral reefs, grasslands, tundra, and the polar seas — these critical, life-enhancing ecosystems that humans take for granted are all at risk. It is, the CBD warns, the “worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.” Granted, some of this is natural, but human behavior — habitat destruction, pollution and yes, global warming — is accelerating the process. Here’s where the above-mentioned public distrust of authority rears its ugly head once more: Although few Americans have knowledge in basic sciences, it hasn’t stopped us from challenging or dismissing the peer-review findings of those who do. We don’t want to invest in addressing a slow-moving catastrophe like this because it’s just too hard to focus or acknowledge something that isn’t top of mind. “If honey bees become extinct,” Albert Einstein noted, “human society will follow in four years.” If you’re smarter than Einstein, Mr. Armchair Expert, tell me why he’s wrong.