I am an ecologist of the academic kind so this typical list of the significant challenges facing humanity makes perfect sense to me
- global biodiversity loss
- anthropogenic pollution and associated climate change
- land allocation
- energy generation
- growing global human population
Here are some similar lists from the United Nations, the Millenium Project and the World Economic Forum.
The usual suspects crop up that are mostly about loss and degradation from resource use by an ever increasing human population.
What is interesting though is how this type of list often conflates cause and effect. In the one above most of the biodiversity loss is a result of past land allocation (most people call it land clearing) itself driven by demand for food and space from a rapidly growing human population.
If we stopped population growth there will be lags before any tangible change in the consequences. There is also the small matter of resourcing the current population. So the challenges will not resolve simply by removing the driver. This is also true for many conservation issues too.
Somewhat ironically the most effective way to slow population growth is through wealth creation. When parents can see a future for their children they have fewer of them. This involves worsening the problem in order to fix it; always a risky proposition.
I propose a new list of biggest global challenges and here it is
- raising awareness
That’s it, a list of one and only one item. If we raised awareness of self and of situation for everyone there is a good chance that the human race could persist alongside a functional environment indefinitely.
The issues on the usual list would persist for a while, but with everyone aware of them, creative solutions would be found. The reason is that awareness comes from a loss of ego. It makes most people far less concerned about themselves. They feel good from the greater good. Weird, but true.
What I really like about this list is not brevity, although that is a handy property, it’s that awareness is the solution to the fundamental producer of global challenges. The human psyche.
Awareness messes with our values, beliefs, prejudices and any number of other emotional and logical thought consequences of our brains. It challenges us to be more than slaves to ego.
This makes it a huge challenge. It dwarfs any of those on the lists of biggest global challenges.
Because it is up to you.