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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin says that there’s so much on her list of “things to worry about” these days – it’s hard to know where to start.

(KUNIN) What should we fear? Intelligent worrying is a proper companion to optimism – and a precursor to political action.

Avian flu or nuclear proliferation?

Breast cancer or heart disease?

Water pollution or global climate change?

Our world is blazing with so many hot spots that it’s hard to know which flame to douse first.

The scientific term for prioritizing dangers is “risk assessment.” Sounds good, but it’s difficult to do because what the public and politicians perceive to be our greatest threats may be different from what the experts say.

A recent New York Times columnist wrote that he has never been more worried about his children and grandchildren’s future than today because of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical and biological. He called on the President to put the elimination of these weapons on the top of the agenda. This is where we should use our political clout and exercise our influence as the world’s leader.

Why aren’t we doing that? Because it’s difficult, it’s ambitious, and it’s abstract. It’s easier to point to a villain, like Saddam Hussein, and aim our guns at him, even if he’s not the greatest threat to our existence.

Why does the public place the environment near the bottom of a list of “worries”? And within the environment category, why is global climate change trailing way behind concern for the pollution of rivers and drinking water?

There is little doubt that global climate change is happening or that it will change life on earth significantly. Scientists agree. What they disagree about is how fast it will happen and whether human activity can accelerate or slow down the process. There is no doubt our grandchildren and their children will be affected by global climate change and its consequences. Yet it’s difficult to marshal the political will to change our behavior because we can’t see it happen before our eyes.

On another front, we’ve made great progress in reducing some health threats. The campaign to fight breast cancer with mammograms, medication and surgery has been effective – but what about heart disease? Since 1984 more women than men have died of heart disease. It’s the number one killer of women. Why aren’t we focusing our heart disease prevention and treatment strategies on women?

Others scares crop up daily.

There is only so much worry in each of us. We have to parcel it out carefully to those problems where we can do the most good.

My list for today is short – focus on weapons of mass destruction – if we don’t, we may not have time to worry about anything else.

My runner up is global climate change. This is our only planet – the lives of future generations depend on it.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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