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Over the next decades humanity will face a major challenge. We already inhabit the planet with over six billion people and for the time being that number will only be increasing. In the meantime, billions are striving for greater material prosperity, while the earth’s capacity to supply raw materials is already being depleted. Shortages arise in, among other things, food, water and petroleum. The climate is changing as a result of our unsparing use of fossil fuels, which can lead to unpredictable disasters. There are always wars, and tensions don’t get any less in times of scarcity and uncertainty. The global division of power is shifting now that Asian countries are building economies of weight and importance, the European Union is forming an ever larger block, the United States are slowly losing ground and Muslim fundamentalists are securing more and more influence.
Major changes harbour threats as well as opportunities. At the present time, most Westerners experience the concerns about prosperity and the environment as threats. Individuals feel powerless, stick their heads in the sand and hope that politicians will maintain the status quo for them. But we can only withstand radical changes by means of resourcefulness, initiative and enthusiasm. People only take action if they have a positive view of the future and feel that their own contribution makes a difference. The five films that together make up the series How to Solve the Major World Problems provide viewers with the necessary vision and confidence.

 

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POPULATION GROWTH

In 1960, the world numbered only 3 billion inhabitants. In the meantime the counter has passed the 6.6 billion mark. In a very short time, the world population has more than doubled. Predictions of population figures in the future average out at around 9 billion by the year 2050.
Population growth mainly takes place in developing countries. In Eritrea, where the average family consists of six children, expectations are that the population will grow from 4 to 11 million people by 2050. In Congo the present rate will even lead to a threefold increase, from 58 to 177 million. In India the population will increase by no less than a half billion by 2050 if parents keep having as many children as they do now.
The question is if and how the earth is able to meet the needs of so many people. The economic growth will have to keep up with the population growth in a sustainable fashion. Otherwise there is the risk of a ‘Malthusian catastrophe’, where the number of people will rapidly decline as a result of famine, scarcity, unemployment, disease and war.
The most effective ways of combating population growth are providing family planning in developing countries, promoting small families and stimulating economic growth. Iran is an example of a country that has managed to curb population growth by deploying the media, religious leaders and teachers to promote small families and offer free family planning.


What can private individuals do
Support initiatives for family planning, contribute to the prosperity of poor areas, have 2.1 children themselves.

What can companies do
Support initiatives for family planning, contribute to the prosperity of poor areas.

 

UPSETTING THE ENVIRONMENT

Life consists of a web of organisms that are mutually dependent. By regular currents in the oceans and the atmosphere, and the precipitation that is the result of those currents, heat, water and minerals are spread out across the earth. The fixed patterns involved in this are a condition for the life of plants and animals.
Humanity has radically changed all those systems. Of some plants and animals there are a lot more now – think of corn or cows – while many other species are being threatened. The composition of sea, air and soil has been altered and a hundred thousand new substances have been introduced in the environment. The climate is changing as a result of our energy consumption. All of these developments are threatening to get out of hand. Once a certain limit has been reached, the climatic changes or extinction of species can suddenly take place very rapidly.
The solution is to design all human processes after the example of the world of nature, namely cyclically instead of linearly. Everything we use should become food for something else again, just like in the natural world. What is also important is to switch to sustainable sources of energy as soon as possible.

What can private individuals do

Use sustainable energy, consume little and recycle a lot, choose environment-friendly products, travel little and eat few animal products.

What can companies do
Use sustainable energy, set up all their business processes in an environment-friendly way, help fast-developing countries such as China and India make their energy supplies sustainable.

 

POVERTY

At least 840 million people suffer from chronic famine and are only one bad harvest removed from starvation; two billion people do not have access to electricity; about two billion people have no safe way to dump their refuse, because there is no sewer system.
Besides those material aspects, poverty is also understood as a lack of opportunities. The poor have little access to education and the media and they live in badly governed societies where political and economic suppression are the rule rather than the exception. That is why it is so difficult to escape from poverty on one’s own account.
Many causes of poverty can be given, the most embarrassing of which is the role played by wealthy countries. The global power structure privileges – intentionally or not – the wealthy countries. Trade barriers, agriculture subsidies, strict conditions for development assistance and economic supremacy make that wealthy countries call the shots. As a result, here as well a linear process takes place: money flows from poor to rich and stays there, instead of being invested in the poor. In the end that’s no good for anyone, not even for the rich. A world in which all have a chance to develop is to the advantage of everyone.
There are many ways to work on a solution to this problem. Providing basic necessities is a prerequisite, but an even greater contribution is the stimulation of economic activity in developing countries. The micro-credit is a by now famous way of helping people increase their prosperity on their own account. Another fascinating development is the surge in LETS (Local Exchange Trading Systems), which allow people to conduct trade within a region without being dependent on wholesalers or the changeable global economy.

What can private individuals do
Invest money in successful development projects, spread knowledge, choose products that have been manufactured in a fair manner.

What can companies do
Purchase in a fair manner, communicate transparently towards consumers about the purchasing, support successful development projects, send employees to poor countries to bring knowledge.



WAR

At this time the world is being swept by dozens of wars and violent conflicts. Between 1998 and 2003, about a half million people have been killed in combat. The actual number of people that die because of wars is much higher, because life in war zones is threatened in many other ways than by combat alone. Soldiers destroy houses and hospitals, oust people from their land and burn down entire agricultural areas. Hundreds of thousands of refugees live close together in camps without sufficient food or adequate sanitary facilities. Diseases break out and spread rapidly.
The main cause of war is poverty. This is nicely expressed by the ‘Golden Arches’ theory of Thomas Friedman, which says that two countries with a McDonalds franchise will never go to war with one another.(The United States’ attack on Kosovo and the recent war between Israel and Lebanon, in the meanwhile, form two exceptions that prove the rule.) For prosperous countries it is more interesting to conduct trade than to wage war. But in poor countries frustrations are rampant and the level of education is low, so that population groups can easily be set against one another by their leaders.
To establish peace on earth, increasing prosperity is therefore the most effective method. What also helps is bringing about positive contacts among population groups and increasing knowledge about conflicts. In Rwanda, for example, there is a popular radio soap that incorporates information about conflict development and conflict solution.
Peace on earth is often regarded as a utopia, since fighting is allegedly part of human nature. It is true that fighting is in our nature, but that can also be translated in constructive and even enjoyable ways. Think of competition within the economy or the football world championships.


What can private individuals do

Support peace projects, relate in positive ways to their own environment.

What can companies do
Support peace projects, especially when they operate in countries where there are tensions between population groups.

 

DISEASES

Poor countries are plagued by diseases for which remedies often exist that unfortunately are not available to the poor. Health care is below par, bad sanitary conditions pave the way for the spread of diseases and medicine is too expensive. In countries where many people are ill, for example due to malaria or HIV, the economy suffers. Every year, 400 million people contract malaria. People who are ill are not capable of working and, moreover, have to be taken care of by healthy people, who as a result have no time for other work.
High population densities and increased mobility make a global pandemic a real danger. Diseases such as SARS and bird flu have so far pretty much been kept under control. In case of a new mutation with a higher risk of infection that might not be possible anymore.
In the meantime, revolutionary developments are taking place within the medical industry. Nanotechnology, gene therapy and vibrational medicines (medicines that work with vibration on a molecular level) promise quick diagnoses and cures with limited side effects.

What can private individuals do

Support scientific research, support the fight against aids and malaria, complete antibiotic courses, attend the Dance 4Life party, where young people make a statement against aids.

What can companies do
Support scientific research, support hospitals in developing countries, improve the sanitary conditions in poor regions.

 

 

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