The 10 Most Pressing Global Problems of our Time and What You Can Do About Them
Originally published on the 22nd of November 2016
What if I told you that the average hero such as Superman is highly underutilising his gifts in fighting crime one case at a time? What if you working, volunteering and donating to an already overcrowded cause distracts from other more accessible social problems?
Lately, I stumbled across 80,000 Hours, an organisation that helps people find a meaningful career in a 9-step career guide. There I came across a compilated list of the world’s top 10 most pressing problems based on scientific research (Open Philanthropy Project, Global Priorities Project, Copenhagen Consensus Centre). There I found the superman parable and the discussion about more effective ways to make a greater impact in the world.
I asked myself, why only focus on what we can do in our careers and not on what we can do in our lifestyle as well. Here is what I found.
Why Focusing on Lifestyle?
The recent US presidency elections created a whirlwind of strong emotions, positive and negative, in my immediate surroundings. This supported my thesis that currently our society as a whole is mostly focused on how other people can change the direction of the world for us. Forgetting that our daily actions of what we do in our own lives creates and inspires the soil of the Zeitgeist, what leaders emerge, how we as humanity evolve and how our own lives and the lives of the following generations form.
Through our own lifestyle, we can create a society that overcomes today’s biggest obstacles.
Here are the world’s 10 most pressing problems (according to 80,000 hours, 21.11.2016) and what you can do about them.
The World’s 10 Most Pressing Problems
#10 Developing World Health
As of today, every year millions of people die of preventable diseases such as tuberculosis or diarrhoea. This is especially the case in developing countries. A lifestyle measure to fight this cause is to make a habit of taking a medical and health supply with you on holidays in developing countries and leave it with the locals you encounter. This can be things like lifesaving malaria bednets or the LifeStraw that turns contaminated water into safe drinking water.
Surprisingly smoking is on spot number 9 in the list of the most pressing problems as 5–6% of all ill-health (Global Burden of Disease) is due to smoking. This is more than HIV and malaria combined. The most obvious decision here is to not be smoking yourself. In addition, you can help people who want to stop smoking by being an accountability partner for them. The less obvious decision is to protect yourself and people near you from second hand smoking whether you are a smoker yourself or not.
#8 Land Use Reform
In economical active cities, housing prices are high, which excludes the people who most need the jobs found there to earn higher wages for themselves, their communities and families. This increases wealth inequality and hinders economic growth and the creation of innovation hubs. The application in everyday life here is mostly found in political activism around urban housing.
#7 Climate Change
Extreme weather changes, climate refugees due to islands and cities being flooded, a global food crisis. All of this are possible scenarios of climate change if we don’t radically change our way of life. It has such a great priority because it determines if tomorrow we are going to leave behind a livable planet for the generations to come.
One of the biggest changes you can do in your life here is to eat a more plant-based diet. 51% of global greenhouse gases are attributable to livestock production (World Watch, 2009). This makes the production of animal products the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. If you are not ready to go completely plant-based starting with one day a week without consuming animal products already has a big impact. For example, the resources you save by not eating one single hamburger is equivalent to not showering for 2 whole months. In addition, wherever you have the choice and will decide to consume products which use lower emission technologies or renewable energy.
#6 Nuclear Security
After the cold war, nuclear weapons have been decimated around the world, but still, there are around 16’000 nuclear weapons in the world right now, with the US and Russia in possession of more than 95% of the world’s weapons. A nuclear war would decimate the world’s population and have the climatic effect of a nuclear winter — nuclear war-induced permanent global winter. Main nuclear powers are the US, Russia, China, the UK and France. Other nuclear powers include India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Israel.
Our role as individuals is to promote world peace and to avoid war above other concerns. World peace starts with our own lives, within ourselves. Only by being peaceful within are we able to give peace to the world. As we cannot give what we don’t have.
Natural pandemics and new scientifically engineered pathogens, also known as bioweapons for modern warfare, could potentially kill millions or even billions of people when they get out of hand. Through political activism and scientific research, you may contribute to the lacking risk management processes.
#4 Factory Farming
As mentioned in #7 factory farming is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, but reducing factory farming is not only about that. The creators of the original top 10 list believe that we should thrive to decrease global suffering created by cruelty to animals as it also decreases human empathy. You can tackle this global problem by eating a more plant-based diet as well.
#3 Global Priorities Research
Charities, governments and social enterprises spend a huge amount of money on several causes to improve the world. As in the example of superman in the article introduction, their priorities aren’t always on the most pressing problems. Therefore #3 on this list is about deepening the understanding of global priorities through research. This doesn’t leave much room for personal lifestyle changes and is mainly based on your career choice or on you donating to such organisations.
#2 Promoting Effective Altruism
Most of us sometimes confuse doing good with seeming good. At least that’s the case for me. When the real focus is on doing good it’s worth asking myself how effective my giving efforts are and researching what happens with my donations. The effective altruism foundation works on promoting the concept of doing the most good based on evidence. Review your donation habits with the insights of effective altruism and combine it with your personal preferences.
#1 Risks from Artificial Intelligence
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is known for his huge respect of artificial intelligence. Researchers predict that artificial intelligence will be further developed within this century. The challenge now is in keeping an AI’s actions and goals in alignment with human intentions and ethics. As artificial intelligence could extinct the human species in the future this is ranked as the world’s most pressing problem. Although it bears one of the greatest risks, it’s mostly neglected by the public. What you can do for this point is to raise awareness about this issue by starting discussions about artificial intelligence in your surroundings.
The following episode of The School of Life on Artificial Intelligence may help you understand the topic better.
I hope this article gives you some ideas on what you can personally do to tackle our world’s greatest obstacles and gives you new perspectives.
What are your insights on what we can do in our lifestyle to address the world’s most pressing problems? What pressing issues are missing from your point of view?
I’m looking forward to hearing about your suggestions and experiences in the comments.
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