A recent podcast on NPR Ted Radio Hour asked the question ¨What are the 5 biggest problems in the world?¨ (you can listen to the podcast here or search ¨Ted Radio Hour¨ on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts). Let’s take a closer look and then ask the question ¨What are the 5 biggest problems facing Rural America?¨
#1 – Climate Change
The last time we had this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was millions of years ago. Rising temperatures are causing massive changes in agriculture and biodiversity. Oceans are becoming increasingly acidified which also impacts organisms. More species are becoming extinct. How will these problems continue to unfold and what steps will global leaders take to address them?
#2 – Refugee Crisis
Human displacement occurs for various economic, natural, and political reasons. Today we are seeing the largest refugee crisis in history with an estimated 65 million people forcibly displaced. The war in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen are some of the reasons for this great flight. What is perhaps most concerning is that many of these refugees are children who flee to countries that are also very poor. Countries like the USA–with the biggest economy in the world–only holds about 1% of the world’s refugees while Europe holds just 6%.
#3 – Political Instability
According to political scientist Ian Bremmer, one reason the world is becoming more politically unstable is because global institutions like the World Bank and World Trade Organization are unwinding. The US drove most of these institutions after WWII but has started to abandon its leadership role in world affairs. Bremer emphasizes how the US just spent $2 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and therefore doesn’t want to play world sheriff anymore. They don’t want to provide security or drive trade for the world. Large numbers of middle and working class also don’t feel like globalization has benefited them. Alliances in Europe are also weakening and China´s leadership is limited to economic spheres. Russia wants to lead but doesn’t want to work with the US to do it. World alliances like the G20 don´t appear to be working. What happens going forward?
#4 – Food Shortages
What happens when a country runs out of food? Research by Sarah Menker demonstrates that a food crisis is likely to occur in the next decade; meaning the point at which our capacity to produce food will no longer meet the demand. Specific research shows that the world will be short 214 trillion calories by the year 2027. Another way to think of this is that the world be short 379 billion Big Macs. McDonald’s has never even produced this much Big Macs. Over the past 40 years, the US and Brazil have become agricultural powerhouses. China particularly has become dependent on these countries for food since their population has exploded. Diets in China have also changed to include more protein. This triggers an inability for the food systems capacity to produce. This demand for food also drives up prices around the world. The US and Brazil also can´t produce more because there is no more land (unless you cut down the Amazon). By 2023 Africa, India and China will make up 55% of the world’s population and we are not prepared to meet this challenge the way our food system is currently organized. The answer might lie in Africa who has land to produce. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of time to figure this out so reforms are needed quickly.
5 – Poverty
Although much progress has been made, we are far from eradicating poverty throughout the world. 760 million people on earth live on less than $1.90 per day. According to poverty research Rutger Bregman, although solving poverty is a challenge it is also an opportunity. While many problems have complicated solutions, solving poverty is quite simple. Poverty is a huge waste in human capital; meaning we miss out on a lot of innovation when children for instance don’t have enough resources to meet their full potential. How much energy and talent would be unleashed on the world without poverty?
One of the biggest roadblocks to eradicating poverty says Bregman, is that most of us don’t truly understand it. For instance, a massive study on the effects that educating people about money management has on poverty showed that it has almost no effect on fixing poverty (Bregman says it is like teaching someone to swim and then throwing them into a stormy sea). Another study showed that people living in poverty lost almost 14 points of IQ. Bregman actually proposes something that has already been proposed by several leading thinkers; a basic income guarantee. A monthly grant that can pay for food, shelter and education. Something completely unconditional with no stigma attached. A town in Canada experimented with this in 1974 for 4 years. People in the town not only became richer but smarter as well. But how could we afford something like this in America? Bregman says it is a lot cheaper than we think. Just 1% of American GDP would lift all Americans above the poverty line. The rich, however, would also benefit from a society with better education, less crime, and an all around more prosperous society.
Now that we’ve evaluated the 5 biggest problems in the world, let´s try and think about our local context. What are the 5 biggest problems facing Forgottonia? How do these problems intersect with global problems? What are the solutions to these issues and how can young people especially participate in these solutions?