Solving Big Problems

It is hard to know whether to be an optimist or a pessimist when it comes to the future. Is the cup half full, half empty, or about to be knocked off the table?

We do know that, so far, our species has been incredibly successful and that we live at an extraordinary moment in the natural history of our planet and the cultural evolution of our species. Past performance, however, is no guarantee of future success.

The human population of the Earth has soared to 7 billion and is still growing. This is a four-fold increase in the last century. Over the same period, the world’s urban population increased thirteen-fold. Sustaining this growth required increased food production and energy consumption, as well as new systems for distributing clean water, sanitation, and the containment and cure of disease.

It is estimated that the world economy grew fourteen-fold over the last century. Industrial output grew forty-fold. All of this was fueled by a sixteen-fold increase in energy use and a nine-fold increase in water consumption. The domestic cattle population grew four-fold. The domestic pig population grew nine-fold. Land under cultivation doubled in this time frame, while forest area decreased by 20 percent. Marine fish catch increased thirty-five-fold.

The last century also included two world wars and innumerable smaller conflicts. The technology of warfare also changed dramatically. We were lucky that the Soviet Union and the United States avoided nuclear war, but with the proliferation of nuclear technology, the threat of battles being waged with these or other weapons of mass destruction increases.

Globalization, empowered by new modes of transportation, trade, and communication, have dramatically transformed our world, even as it creates new kinds of insecurities. Behind all of these problems is also the challenge of improving education in the midst of an information explosion. Scientific and historical literacy need to be both broad and deep, if we are to have healthy and effective regulations, policies and governance.

The numbers and trends are staggering. At Metanexus, we believe that we can best work toward addressing and solving the Big Problems related to food, population, water, energy, the environment, economics, education, and war by discussing them in the context of Big History. Let the conversation begin.

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