Below is a non-exhaustive list of international issues. Feel free to suggest other issues via email@example.com.
Wars and civil wars: Wars are violent conflicts between countries, or within countries (civil wars). There are currently wars or civil wars causing at least 1,000 deaths per year in Mexico (drug war), Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Mali. In most wars, more civilians are killed than soldiers.
War crimes: War crimes happen when the people fighting a war break national and/or international law by mistreating civilians, prisoners, using weapons they are not allowed to use (e.g., chemical or biological weapons), or else. War criminals are rarely prosecuted for their crimes.
Terrorism: Terrorism is violence against civilians (e.g., bombings, shootings, stabbings) intended to provoke fear in civilians in order to accomplish political or religious goals. Some people say “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.”
Arms trade and arms control: Arms dealers sell weapons to governments, organizations and individuals. They trade weapons usually for money. People criticize arms dealers for making weapons more available, making it possible to start wars, and for making wars more deadly. Arms control refers to efforts to restrict the making, buying, selling and stockpiling of weapons, and in so doing, to reduce the number of people killed and injured.
Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons: Nuclear energy is used in many countries to make electricity to light, heat and power homes, offices and factories. In some countries, nuclear energy is also used to make nuclear weapons, which are the most deadly weapons humans have. A single nuclear bomb nowadays can kill millions of people, so the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries is a serious international security issue.
Drones: Drones are airplanes that don’t have a pilot in them. The pilot is on the ground controlling the airplane from a distance. Some countries, like the USA, use drones to kill people and destroy things that are deemed a threat. Some people say that drones create too much distance between killers and the people killed, making killing more like a video game rather than a really bad thing.
Land mines: Land mines are bombs concealed underground. When someone steps on the mine, the mine explodes, killing or injuring everyone nearby. Militaries use land mines in war to help destroy their enemies, but often don’t remove the mines when the war is over. This puts civilians at risk if they step on the mines accidentally. In some countries, too many innocent civilians, including children, have been killed or maimed by land mines.
Political persecution, torture, imprisonment and human rights: In free, democratic societies, people have the freedom to express opposition to their government leaders. Some countries’ governments are autocratic rather than democratic though. Autocrats control government, and do not like people who oppose them. Autocrats often threaten, harass, beat, imprison and/or torture their opponents. In response to autocrats, some activists promote and seek to protect human rights, including freedom of speech so people can freely express opposition to government leaders.
Cultural conflicts: People from the same group are sometimes said to have a culture. Culture refers to how a group of people act and what they believe. Cultures differ. For example, Americans are more likely to believe people should be free to say whatever they want, but in other countries, people are more likely to believe individuals should not be allowed to say hateful things toward certain groups or religions. Some times, these cultural differences can lead to conflict between groups, such as between some Christians and some Muslims.
World trade, trade imbalances, and trade wars: Trade is when money is exchanged for goods (food, car, cell phone, house, etc.) and/or services (cell phone service, taxi ride, car wash). A lot of trade happens between countries, and that can give people more jobs and more choice of goods and services to buy. But some countries get more money and jobs in trade because they sell more goods and services to other countries (trade imbalance). This can cause the countries that sell less to resent those countries that sell more. This resentment can lead to a trade war, where, for example, the USA imposes high taxes or tariffs on goods coming from China to the USA, and China retaliates by imposing high tariffs on goods coming to China from the USA. This can lead to higher prices and loss of jobs in both countries.
Globalization: Globalization refers to increasing connections between countries due to growing trade, immigration, and technological improvements (e.g., planes, the internet) that make it easier for people to travel and communicate across country borders. Some people think globalization is generally good, that it is making more people richer, freer, happier. Others think globalization is only making some people richer and happier, and forcing certain ways of life (e.g., consumerism, materialism) on everyone.
The future of work: What kind of work will you have in the future? Will machines take over a lot of jobs, so many people are left unemployed? Will more jobs require you to speak another language, or to get along with very different people? What do you imagine the future of work looks like?
Financial crisis: People borrow money from banks and investors to make big purchases (e.g., buy a car or home), and to start and grow businesses. To make money, big banks and investment groups lend money all over the world, but sometimes they get greedy and lend money even to people who can’t pay the money back. This can lead to widespread default (failure to pay back loans, or even the interest on loans), the failure of banks, and a cash crisis, so many people lose their jobs and homes because there is no money available.
Government and business crime and corruption: All countries suffer some amount of crime and corruption, but some countries have more than others. Countries that are undemocratic — where small privileged groups of people control government and business — are more likely to have government and business crime and corruption because the small groups in power think they can do anything they want, even if it is against the law (crime), or even if it is only to benefit themselves at the expense of everyone else (corruption).
International government: Should we have an international government stronger than national governments — a strong government for the whole world? Some people think so because that may stop powerful groups and dictators in some countries from abusing the people of their country. Others, especially people in powerful nations like the USA, do not want a strong international government controlling some of their country’s decisions.
Imperialism, and neo-imperialism: Imperialism is when one country dominates another country by means of military force, or the threat of such force. Neo-imperialism is when one country dominates or exploits another country economically rather than militarily. Rather than use weapons, neo-imperialists use money to gain control, such as by offering jobs, new buildings or factories, loans, grants, or bribes to government leaders.
Economic inequality, poverty, unemployment: Economics refers to who gets what wealth or stuff (money, food, cars, houses, etc.). Economic inequality refers to the difference in the amount of wealth the rich, the poor, and everyone in the middle have. The proportion of the world’s people who are poor has gone down over the last several decades, but there are still billions of people who live in poverty, and millions who are unemployed. Further, a few million people in the world are getting very rich while the wealth of most people is not growing nearly so fast. Inequality, poverty and unemployment all make life shorter, less healthy and happy for those who are poorer.
Hunger and overweight: In poor countries, there are more hungry people. In rich countries, there are more overweight and obese people. As the world grows wealthier (more people have more stuff), there are fewer hungry people, and more overweight people. With more overweight comes more heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and death.
Piracy (shipping piracy, cyber-piracy, intellectual property theft): When you think of pirates you may think of pirate ships hundreds of years ago, as in the movie sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean. But pirates exist today, and not just ones stealing cargo from ships on the high seas, but also computer pirates stealing people’s names, dates of birth, social security, bank numbers and money through the internet. Some people also call pirates those who steal from others on land, whether they are stealing someone’s wallet, or artists’ music, writing, paintings, etc.
Immigrants and refugees: Immigrants are people who move from their country to another country, most often for school, work, and/or family. Some immigrants move legally (they have permission from the government where they move), some not legally (they do not have the government’s permission). Refugees are people who flee their home due to a natural disaster, war, or “political persecution” (their government does not like them).
Human trafficking and child labor: Slavery, otherwise known as human trafficking or trade in people, is unfortunately still a problem in today’s world. Millions of people in the world, many of them women and children, are forced to work in homes, factories, farms, or as sex workers. Some slaves are forced to give up one or more of their body organs for others to use. Child labor is when children are required to work rather than go to school. Often, it is poor families that put their children to work to bring home much needed money.
Worker exploitation: In many countries, poor workers are often exploited/abused. They may be: paid too little money; worked for too many hours and days; work in dirty or dangerous workplaces; yelled at, threatened, beaten, sexually harassed or assaulted by their bosses or co-workers; etc. Unlike slaves, they are not forced to work, they can leave, but they often have a hard time finding other jobs, or jobs that pay as well.
Gender discrimination and gender inequality: Gender discrimination refers to when a person or group of people are treated differently because they are a man/men or woman/women. Most often, gender discrimination involves girls or women being treated unfairly, or not the same as men. Gender discrimination leads to gender inequality — differences in resources and power that women/girls and men/boys get — as men and boys are favored, getting to go to school, getting more school, better and more jobs, pay, respect, freedom, and power Gender inequality in turn commonly leads to violence against girls and women.
Racial discrimination and racial inequality: Racial discrimination refers to when a person or group of people are treated differently because of some aspect of their physical appearance, often their skin color. In many countries, people with lighter skin are treated better than people with darker skin. Just as gender discrimination leads to gender inequality, racial discrimination leads to racial inequality — differences in resources and power that different racial groups get — as racial groups that are favored get better education, jobs, homes, neighborhoods, etc. Racial inequality in turn commonly leads to more violence against people with darker skin.
Sexual discrimination and sexual inequality: Sexual discrimination refers to when a person or group of people are treated differently because of their sexual orientation (who they are sexually attracted to). In many countries, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer (LGBTQ) people are denied hundreds of rights heterosexuals have, including the right to marry, have children, certain jobs, or even to be together with their partners in public. This discrimination leads to sexual inequality — differences in resources and power depending on one’s sexual orientation, and violence against LGBTQ people.
Overpopulation and overconsumption: Overpopulation (too many people), and overconsumption (too much buying and throwing away of stuff) are the major causes of environmental destruction. Environmental destruction includes air, land and water pollution, climate change, acid rain, resource depletion (including water scarcity), deforestation, desertification, habitat loss, species extinction and biodiversity loss. All of these are briefly explained below.
Air pollution, climate change, and acid rain: Human beings’ factories, cars, trucks, trains and planes are polluting the air too much. This is causing more people to have breathing/lung problems, like bronchitis and asthma. Air pollution is also causing acid rain — when pollution mixes with rain water to form acids that kill insects and sea life, hurt trees, and damage steel and stone materials in buildings. Air pollution is also causing extreme weather or climate change. Climate change includes higher temperatures for longer periods, leading to water shortages and forest fires; more powerful and frequent hurricanes leading to massive destruction of homes and workplaces; longer and heavier rainstorms leading to floods and drownings; heavier snowstorms bringing busy communities to a standstill; and little island countries like the Maldives and Micronesia threatened with extinction because of rising seas from melting polar ice.
Water pollution and water scarcity: A lot of lawn and farm chemicals as well as trash humans create is polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. This is killing sea life, and threatening the water people drink. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is freshwater people can drink, and only 1% is easily accessed from lakes, rivers and rain, the rest is locked in glaciers and snow. The remaining 97.5% of the world’s water is salty ocean water people cannot drink. The hotter weather that comes with climate change is evaporating a lot of freshwater even as population growth means more people need water.
Deforestation, desertification: Forests are being destroyed (deforestation) to grow animals and crops for people to eat. Forests not only produce oxygen animals need to breathe, but store carbon that escapes into the air when forests are destroyed. Also, as the weather gets hotter due to climate change, in some hot places there is less rain and less ground water, so plant life is dying and deserts are getting larger (desertification).
Resource depletion, habitat loss, species extinction, biodiversity loss: As the world’s population grows, and people get richer, buying more and more stuff, the Earth’s resources — like land, trees, soil, water, fish, and minerals — are getting depleted (resource depletion). As resource depletion continues, the natural homes/habitats of animals on land and sea are also being destroyed (habitat loss). As animals’ homes are destroyed, many types/species of animals are dying/disappearing forever (species extinction). In some cases — such as elephants, lions, tigers, rhinos, whales, sharks and turtles — the animals themselves are hunted and killed for their skin, horns, and other body parts. All this habitat and animal destruction is causing biodiversity loss, that is, loss in the number and types of plants and animals on Earth. Biodiversity loss, in turn, means not just less money and fewer jobs for people, but fewer beautiful, fascinating creatures, and more sickness/disease because plants and animals are sources of medicine, and because animals who can survive environmental destruction carry more disease.
Urbanization, urban sprawl, urban slums, rural poverty: With more population, cities get bigger (urbanization), taking over more land that was once farmland or untouched by humans (urban sprawl). Cities are more crowded, noisy, busy and expensive than suburbs and rural areas, but cities also have more people, schools, jobs, money, restaurants, and entertainment. So, more people are moving to cities and away from suburbs and especially rural areas. Poor people settle in urban slums or ghettos, where homes are cheaper, but forcing a lot of poor people to live together in bad homes and neighborhoods tends to cause more unemployment, crime, and misery for them. In contrast, rural areas (where there are more trees, farms, animals and open land) are losing people because cities have more jobs, and because farming nowadays employs more machines than people. Fewer jobs mean less money and more poverty in rural areas (rural poverty).
Underpopulation and population aging: It may seem strange, but while some countries of the world have too many people (overpopulation), other countries do not have enough people (underpopulation). The reason is that generally, as people get richer and more educated, they tend to have fewer kids in part because life can be very nice without kids, and kids get more demanding and expensive (more expensive clothes, food, education, entertainment, health care). So richer countries tend to lose population unless they get more immigrants from other countries. People in richer countries also live longer because they have better health care (more doctors, hospitals, playgrounds, gyms, healthy food, etc.). That means more older people who cannot work and need help walking, washing, eating, etc. even as there are fewer young people being born and raised to work, make money and take care of the elderly.
Environmental disasters: Sometimes nature on its own produces hurricanes, tsunamis, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mud slides, floods, wildfires and other destructive events (environmental disasters). As noted above though, human-made climate change is leading to more of certain kinds of disasters, including hurricanes, torrential rains, wildfires and powerful snowstorms. In the worst disasters, millions of people may be killed, injured or displaced, losing their homes, jobs, family members and belongings. Some countries have more disasters than others because they have more volcanoes, earthquake fault lines, flood plains, or other features, or they are located in the natural path of hurricanes and other storms.
Infectious disease transmission: With more people, other animals and goods traveling between countries due to more airplanes, roads and cheapening cost of travel, there is more risk of transmitting infectious diseases. Infectious diseases — like Hepatitis B and C, malaria, dengue, tuberculosis, and AIDS — are diseases passed from one animal/person to another via bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Some infectious diseases, such as Ebola, can sicken and kill a person within days. Countries with weak health care systems (fewer hospitals, doctors, nurses, drugs, clean water, etc.) and people with weaker immune systems (the sick, children, elderly) are more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases.
Chronic, non-infectious diseases: Non-infectious diseases are diseases that cannot be physically transmitted from one person to another via bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. They can, however, be transmitted socially, via family, friends, advertising or other social influences. Bad diets, lack of exercise, smoking, drinking, aging and air pollution are contributing to the growth in chronic (lasting months or years) non-infectious diseases like arthritis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.