Table of Contents

Title page

To those who serve the needs of others – humans, animals, and plants, all essential parts of our lovely but endangered planet


1.1 Rural migrants often settle in urban slums in developing nations (United Nations)

1.2 Growing cities in less developed nations often have a mixture of modern and substandard housing (United Nations)

1.3 Children take care of children in many poorer countries, as this girl is doing in Mexico (Mark Olencki)

1.4 Breast-feeding delays a woman’s ability to conceive and provides the most healthful food for a baby (United Nations)

1.5 Advertisement for contraceptives in Costa Rica (George Shiflet)

1.6 Family planning class (United Nations)

1.7 A more frequent picture in the future? A crowded train in Bangladesh (World Bank)

2.1 Poverty in Indonesia (World Bank)

2.2 The weight of poverty falls heavily on children in less developed nations (United Nations)

2.3 Street children in Nepal (Ab Abercrombie)

2.4 The market approach is followed on the streets of many developing nations (Mark Olencki)

2.5 The state approach to development struggles to survive the collapse of communist regimes in Europe, as can be seen in the posters of a Communist Party conference in Nepal (Ab Abercrombie)

3.1 Starvation in Somalia (CARE: Zed Nelson)

3.2 The bloated belly is a sign of malnutrition, a major cause of stunting and death in the children of the developing world (CARE: Joel Chiziane)

3.3 Street vendors sell food to many urban dwellers in developing-world cities (Ab Abercrombie)

3.4 Tropical rainforests are being cut down to raise beef cattle for the US fast-food market – the so-called “hamburger connection” (United Nations)

3.5 Much of the food in Africa is grown and prepared by women (World Bank)

4.1 Shortage of wood is a part of the energy crisis, since many urban dwellers in developing nations rely on wood as their major source of fuel (Ab Abercrombie)

4.2 The replacing of human-powered vehicles with oil-fueled vehicles in poor and crowded countries, such as Bangladesh, will be difficult (World Bank)

4.3 Wind turbines in Altamont Pass, California (US Department of Energy)

4.4 Solar thermal power plant, California (US Department of Energy)

4.5 Solar energy provides power for a water pump in Morocco (USAID Photo Agency for International Development)

4.6 Geothermal power plant, California (US Department of Energy)

5.1 Vehicles, such as this truck/bus, provide a lot of air pollution in the cities of the developing countries (Ab Abercrombie)

5.2 Water pollution in the USA is partly caused by large amounts of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, which run off from fields during storms (Lynn Betts, US Department of Agriculture)

5.3 Deforestation in Mexico (Jami Dwyer)

6.1 Without modern technology to help, necessary tasks can be difficult. A woman in Nepal breaks up clumps of soil to prepare the land for planting (Ab Abercrombie)

6.2 Underground nuclear weapons testing site in the USA (Los Alamos National Laboratory)

Figures, Maps, and Tables


1.1 Population growth from 8000 BC to 2011 AD

1.2 Population growth in less developed and more developed countries, 1950–2005 (projected)

1.3 World population projections to 2050: three scenarios

1.4 Population by age and sex in developed and less developed countries 2010 (projected)

1.5 The classic stages of demographic transitions

1.6 Demographic transition in Sweden and Mexico

1.7 Mother’s education and childbearing in selected countries, about 2000

1.8 Fertility decline in world regions, 1950–55, 2000–2005

1.9 Increases in modern contraceptive use in selected countries, 1960s to 2007

1.10 A growing population and carrying capacity

2.1 Global extreme poverty rate

2.2 Fewer people in extreme poverty: people living on less than $1 a day, 1981, 1990, 2001

2.3 Reduction in extreme poverty in China and India, 1981–2001

2.4 Percentage of the population and number of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa

2.5 World trade, merchandise exports (in 1990 dollars)

2.6 World trade, goods exports, 2001–2009

3.1 Per capita consumption of major food items in developing countries, 1961–2005

4.1 Global energy consumption, 1850–2000

4.2 Energy use per capita by world region, 2002

4.3 Global average land-ocean temperature at earth’s surface, 1880–2005


1.1 India

2.1 Brazil

3.1 The Mediterranean

4.1 Iraq

5.1 China

6.1 Borneo and Indonesia

6.2 Africa


1.1 Time taken to add each billion to the world population, 1800–2046 (projection)

1.2 Ten largest cities in the world, 1950, 2000, and 2015 (projection)

1.3 Regional trends in aging: percentage of total population 65 years or older, 2000, 2015 (projection), 2030 (projection)

2.1 The wealth of tropical, desert, highland, and temperate regions

3.1 Number and size of US farms, 1940–2000

3.2 Percentage of adults overweight and obese (various countries)

4.1 US gasoline prices, 1950–2009


In the 1950s and 1960s I (Seitz) went as an employee of the US government to Iran, Brazil, Liberia, and Pakistan to help them develop. A common belief in those decades was that poverty causes people to turn to communism. As an idealistic young person, I was pleased to work in a program that had the objective of helping poor nations raise their living standards. After World War II the United States was the richest and most powerful country in the world. Many countries welcomed US assistance since it was widely believed that the United States could show others how to escape from poverty.

Disillusionment came as I realized that we did not really know how to help these countries relieve their widespread poverty. The problem was much more complex and difficult than we had imagined. Also, one of the main political objectives of our foreign aid program – to help friendly, noncommunist governments stay in power – often dominated our concerns.

And more disillusionment came when I looked at my own country and realized that it had many problems of its own that had not been solved. It was called “developed” but faced major problems that had accompanied its industrialization – urban sprawl and squalor, pollution, crime, materialism, and ugliness, among others. So, I asked myself, what is development? Is it good or bad? If there are good features in it, as many people in the world believe, how do you achieve them, and how do you control or prevent the harmful features? It was questions such as these that led me to a deeper study of development and to the writing of this book.

I came to recognize that development is a concept that allows us to examine and make some sense out of the complex issues the world faces today. Many of these issues are increasingly seen as being global issues. Because the capacity human beings have to change the world – for better or for worse – is constantly growing, an understanding of global issues has become essential. The front pages of our newspapers and the evening TV news programs remind us nearly daily that we live in an age of increasing interdependence. (The Introduction explains the creation of global issues.)

In this book the term “development” will be defined as economic growth plus the social changes caused by or accompanying that economic growth. In the 1950s and 1960s it was common to think of development only in economic terms. For many economists, political scientists, and government officials, development meant an increase in the per capita national income of a country or an increase in its gross national product (GNP), the total amount of goods and services produced. Development and economic development were considered to be synonymous. In the 1970s an awareness grew – in both the less developed nations and the developed industrialized nations – that some of the social changes which were coming with economic growth were undesirable. More people were coming to understand that for economic development to result in happier human beings, attention would have to be paid to the effects that economic growth was having on social factors. Were an adequate number of satisfying and challenging jobs being created? Were adequate housing, health care, and education available? Were people living and working in a healthy and pleasant environment? Did people have enough nutritious food to eat? Every country is deficient in some of these factors and, thus, is in the process of developing.

The definition of development I have given above is a “neutral” one – it does not convey a sense of good or bad, of what is desirable or undesirable. I have chosen this definition because there is no widespread agreement on what these desirable and undesirable features are. The United Nations now defines human development as the enlarging of human capabilities and choices; in a yearly publication ranks nations on a human development index, which tries to measure national differences of income, educational attainment, and life expectancy. The United Nations sees the purpose of development to be the creation of an environment in which people can lead long, healthy, and creative lives. Economists have traditionally used GNP or national income as the measures of economic development. My definition tries to combine both the economic and the social components into the concept of development. I find a neutral definition useful because development can be beneficial or harmful to people.

In this book we will look at some of the most important current issues related to development. The well-being of people depends on how governments and individuals deal with these issues. We will first look at the issue of population, then move on to issues related to wealth and poverty, food, energy, the environment, and technology, and conclude with a consideration of the future.

This book is an introduction to a number of complicated issues. It is only a beginning; there is much more to learn. Readers who are intrigued by a subject or point made and want to learn more about it should consult the relevant note. The note will either give some additional information or will give the source of the fact we present. Consulting this source is a good place for the reader to start his or her investigation. After each chapter a list of readings gives inquisitive readers further suggestions for articles and books that will allow them to probe more deeply. Appendix 1 gives the student some help in organizing the material the book covers and the teacher some suggestions for teaching this material. Appendix 2 offers suggestions of relevant video tapes and disks, an important and interesting resource for those who want to understand these issues more deeply. Appendix 3 gives internet sources. Many organizations on the internet now have a large amount of information related to many of the issues covered in this book. The glossary contains a definition of many of the uncommon terms used in the book.

The world is changing rapidly and significant developments have taken place in many of the topics covered in this book since the third edition was prepared. The fourth edition has been thoroughly updated. A section on nuclear energy has been added since there is now a renewed interest in expanding this manner of producing energy.

Seven maps has been added to the book to help the reader locate many of the locations mentioned.

Global issues can be a depressing subject as the reader learns of the many serious problems the world faces. To help counter this depression without “sugar coating” the issues, a highlighted box of an example of a positive action the reader can take will be presented in each chapter.

We would like to thank the following teachers who made useful suggestions for improving this edition: Edwin Clausen, Daemen College, USA; William Moseley, Macalester College, USA; Scott Anderson, State University of New York, Cortland, USA; Matthew Sparke, University of Washington, USA; Hans Holmen, Linkoping University, Sweden; and Alan Gilbert, University College London, UK.

I (Seitz) would also like to thank Wofford College for an office. Offices are usually scarce on college campuses and I deeply appreciate Wofford allowing this retired professor to “hang around.” Martin Aigner, of Wofford’s Information Technology staff, performed great service in keeping my computer running, and my office mate, Don Scott, rescued me at times when my computer failed to follow my confused instructions. Finally, many thanks to Abigail Wilcox for her excellent proofreading.


The term “less developed” refers to a relatively poor nation in which agriculture or mineral resources have a large role in the economy while manufacturing and services have a lesser role. The infrastructure (transportation, education, health, and other social services) of these countries is usually inadequate for their needs. About 80 percent of the world’s people live in nations such as this, which are also called “developing.” (Some of these countries are highly developed in culture and many such regions of the world had ancient civilizations with architecture, religion, and philosophy that we still admire.) Since many of the less (economically) developed nations are in the Southern Hemisphere, they are at times referred to as “the South.” During the Cold War these nations were often called the “Third World.” Industrialized nations are called “developed” nations. Most of them are located in the Northern Hemisphere, so they are called “the North.” Some organizations such as the World Bank also divide countries according to their level of income. The Bank considers low- and middle-income countries to be “developing” and high income countries to be “developed.”

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 2004 (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2004), p. 127.

For a criticism of the Western concept of development see Ivan Illich, “Outwitting the ‘Developed’ Countries,” in Charles K. Wilber (ed.), The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment, 2nd edn (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 436–44. See also Lloyd Timberlake, “The Dangers of ‘Development,’ ” in Only One Earth: Living for the Future (New York: Sterling, 1987), pp. 13–22.

Introduction: The Creation of Global Issues

What causes an issue to become a “global issue”? Are “global issues” the same as international affairs – the interactions that governments, private organizations, and peoples from different countries have with each other? Or is something new happening in the world? Are there now concerns and issues that are increasingly being recognized as global in nature? It is the thesis of this book that something new indeed is happening in the world as nations become more interdependent. While their well-being is still largely dependent upon how they run their internal affairs, increasingly nations are facing issues that they alone cannot solve, issues that are so important that the failure to solve them will adversely affect the lives of many people on this planet. In fact, some of these issues are so important that they can affect how suitable this planet will be in the future for supporting life.

The issues dramatize our increasing interdependence. The communications and transportation revolutions that we are experiencing are giving people knowledge of many new parts of the globe. We see that what is happening in far-off places can affect, or is affecting, our lives. For example, instability in the oil-rich Middle East affects the price of oil around the world and since many countries are dependent on oil as their main source of energy, the politics of oil becomes a global concern.

Many nations in the world are now dependent on other nations to buy their products and supply natural resources and goods they need to purchase in order for them to maintain their standard of living. An economic downturn in any part of the world that affects the supply and demand for products will affect the economic status of many other nations. This is an important part of globalization that will be discussed in chapter 2.

Even a global issue such as world hunger illustrates our increasing interdependence. A person might say that starving or malnourished people in Africa don’t affect people in the rich countries, but even here there is a dependency. Our very nature and character depend on how we respond to human suffering. Some rich nations such as the Scandinavian nations in northern Europe give a much higher portion of their national wealth to poor nations for development purposes than do other rich nations such as the United States and Japan.

Global issues are often seen as being interrelated. One issue affects other issues. For example, climate change (an environmental issue) is related to an energy issue (our reliance on fossil fuels), the population issue (more people produce more greenhouse gases), the wealth and poverty issue (wealthy developed countries produce the most gases that cause climate change), the technology issue (technology can help us create alternative energy sources that produce less or no greenhouse gases), and the future issue (will the changes we are making in the earth’s climate seriously harm life on this planet?). As we recognize these interrelationships, we realize that usually there are no simple solutions.

Interdisciplinary knowledge is required to successfully deal with the issues. The student or adult learner reading this book will be receiving information from multiple disciplines such as biology, economics, political science, environmental science, chemistry, and others. Neither the social sciences nor the physical sciences have the answers alone. Feel good about yourself, reader, because you are engaged in the noble task of trying to understand how the world really works. Complicated? Yes, of course. Impossible to discover? Certainly not. Just read seriously and carefully. It takes effort and you can keep learning throughout your life.

Perhaps, global issues were born on the day, several decades ago, when the earth, for the first time, had its picture taken. The first photograph of earth, which was transmitted by a spacecraft, showed our planet surrounded by a sea of blackness. Many people seeing that photograph realized that the blackness was a hostile environment, devoid of life, and that life on earth was vulnerable and precious. No national boundaries could be seen from space. That photograph showed us our home – one world – and called for us to have a global perspective in addition to our natural, and desirable, more local and national perspectives.

This book discusses some of the main current global issues of our time. The reader can probably identify others. During the reader’s lifetime, humanity will have to face new global issues that will continue to surface. It is a characteristic of the world in which we live. Maybe our growing ability to identify such issues, and our increasing knowledge of how to deal with them, will enable us to handle the new issues better than we are doing with the present ones.