Here in the U.S., we seem to have lost sight of our priorities, of the most important issues we should be dealing with, and instead we have become mesmerized by the social and political divide. I sometimes wonder if it isn’t a game played within the upper echelons to distract our attention from things that really matter in the long-term view. I am as guilty as any of letting the political circus of these past few years occupy a large portion of my mind, my writing. And make no mistake … the issues facing our social and political culture are important … very much so. But other issues are more important and on a much larger scale. So today, I’m not going to discuss Republicans vs Democrats, but I’m going to focus on the things that will someday in the near future make both parties either work together or become extinct.
There are disagreements, even among experts, as to what the most critical, most relevant issues facing the world today are, but they all agree on at least the top one:
Climate change and the environment
This is the big one. A toxic combination of dependence on fossil fuels and unsustainable industrial practices has created extremely dangerous weather events that threaten to destroy terrestrial and marine ecosystems as well as our access to basic resources like food and water.
Most of the world’s recent natural disasters – including superstorms, freak floods and out of control fires, as well as some of hottest and coldest seasons on record – are the direct result of man-made, fossil-fuel induced global warming.
Across land and sea, natural habitats are deteriorating. We are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate and destabilizing precious ecosystems. These ecosystems are so complex and interdependent that we cannot predict all the consequences of their loss, but here is what we do know:
- Species extinctions are happening more frequently than at any time in recorded history. Between 2015 and 2020, the rate of deforestation was approximately 10 million hectares of forests per year. Healthy forests are essential; they not only regulate the earth’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels as well as seasonal weather patterns but are also depended on by millions of people for food, water and livelihoods.
- Global warming has caused an increase in coral bleaching, killing ecosystems sustained by the nutrients the coral provide, including fishing grounds on which local communities across the world depend.
- We are also endangering countless marine species with unsustainable fishing practices like overfishing and bycatch, where dolphins and turtles are caught in commercial fishing nets and later discarded as waste. Meanwhile, pollutants like boat fuel, pesticides, fertilizer, sewage and plastics are causing ocean dead zones – spots where no organism can live.
Next on the list is …
The hunger crisis and water scarcity
One in nine people in the world go hungry each day and suffer from nutritional deficiencies as a result. Current estimates show that 957 million people across 93 countries do not have enough to eat.
The problem isn’t that we aren’t producing enough food; it’s that people lack access to food. Many people don’t have enough money to buy basic foodstuff and cannot grow their own. And the number of displaced persons who suffer from food insecurity is increasing too. According to the World Food Program (WFP), countries with the highest level of food insecurity also have the highest outward migration of refugees.
The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine further complicates this problem. Sanctions against Russia, one of the world’s biggest producers of fossil fuels, have further increased energy prices, causing food prices to rise too, ultimately making it much harder on people already struggling to afford food. Ukraine is also one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, which it has had to stop producing due to the war. Most of these exports were due to countries suffering food shortages. Together, Russia and Ukraine are also the world’s largest exporter of fertilizer. The war has caused a lack of supply, creating higher prices for farmers that ultimately translate to higher food prices.
As with food, there is enough fresh water for each person currently living on the planet. But not everyone has equal access to that water. Issues such as poor infrastructure, displacement and conflict mean that many people often have to use unsafe water sources, which is a health and sanitation risk. About two billion people still use a source that is contaminated with human waste, and about the same number don’t have access to adequate toilet facilities.
Major global health issues
The current overwhelming threat to our overall global health and well-being is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though we now have access to effective vaccines and treatment is better understood, more than six million people have died, and the virus continues to threaten vulnerable populations across the world, especially in those areas where access to healthcare is limited. There have also been serious socio-economic side effects that will further contribute to health issues, including mental health issues, for a long time to come.
Other diseases also affect health on a global scale. Fortunately, increased access to clean water and improved education around proper sanitation has resulted in an overall decrease in the prevalence of some communicable diseases like hepatitis, cholera, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. And while the focus of the global healthcare community has now shifted to non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, all of these health problems remain a concern in countries that lack healthcare resources, and even some that have the resources, but at a prohibitive cost.
Many children across the world cannot have their basic human needs met. This includes access to food, education and healthcare.
Child health and education go hand in hand. Malnutrition leads to children who are hungry, cannot concentrate and, thus, cannot learn, and are at risk of developing permanent learning disabilities. Children who go chronically hungry can also develop physiological damage, known as stunting.
Even when children are attending school, the quality of their education might be poor, or educational capacity and resources may be limited. This means that they might leave school without the necessary numeracy or literacy skills required. It’s estimated that approximately 600 million children are not mastering basic mathematics and literacy while at school.
We can cry about the price of fuel, rent, food and other commodities, we can whine and stomp our feet about having to wear a mask in a public venue, but all of that means nothing as compared to the greater problems I’ve only touched on above. And yes, we can rant and rave about political issues, but again … in the grand scope of things, they pale. If we fail to find solutions to climate change … in 50-75 years, humans won’t be worrying about the price of celery or wearing a mask, for they will be too busy trying to find air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.
My thanks to numerous sources, particularly Global Vision International (GVI)