Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !


In the past, much effort has gone into the focus on seemingly isolated world problems, such as unemployment, boredom, endangered species, desertification or corruption. Research for the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential has instead shifted focus to the hunt for complex networks and even vicious cycles of problems. A cycle is a chain of problems, with each aggravating the next - with the last looping back to aggravate the first in the chain. The more obvious loops may be composed of only 3 or 4 problems. Far less obvious are those composed of 7 or more. An example of a vicious cycle is:

Alienation > Youth gangs > Neighbourhood control by criminals > Psychological stress of urban environment > Substance abuse > Family breakdown > Alienation.

Such cycles are vicious because they are self-sustaining. Identifying them is also no easy matter. Like the search for strange particles in physics, much computer time is required to track through the aggravating chains linking problems. A preliminary search along 9 million such pathways has so far identified 19,000 cycles composed of up to 7 problems.

Organizational strategies and programmes that focus on only one problem in the chain tend to fail because the cycle has the capacity to regenerate itself. Worse still is that such cycles tend to interlock, creating the complex of global problems which causes so many to despair. The good news is that identifying vicious cycles is a first step towards designing cycles of strategies to reverse or break them. Better still some problems are linked by serendipitous cycles in which each problem alleviates the next - and, even better, some strategies function in serendipitous cycles to reinforce each other and break vicious problem cycles. Detecting them is a future focus of the Encyclopedia research.