Which global problems should you work on to have the greatest impact?
We’ve been working on this question for the last eight years, drawing together research from the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute; the Open Philanthropy Project (a foundation with billions of dollars of committed funds); the Copenhagen Consensus Center (a major think tank); and other groups.
Using this research, we created a framework and used it to rate and make a list of global issues.
This led to some surprising results – artificial intelligence ranks as more pressing than global health.
This is because the most urgent problems are not only big, they’re also neglected and solvable – the fewer people working on a problem, the easier it is to make a big contribution. An issue can be big but comparatively well-known and crowded, like climate change, or it can be small but neglected, like land use zoning reform, and therefore also worth considering.
If you want to get the full story behind our reasoning, read this article. But for now, here’s the current list. It’s still very much a work in progress, and we expect it to change over the coming years.
The list of global problems
|Solvability(?)||Total Score (?)|
|Risks from artificial intelligence||Recommended||15||8||4||27|
|Promoting effective altruism||Recommended||13||9||4||26|
|Global priorities research||Recommended||13||9||4||26|
|Factory farming||Sometimes recommended||13||6||4||23|
|Nuclear security||Sometimes recommended||15||5||3||23|
|Developing world health||Sometimes recommended||13||2||6||21|
|Climate change (extreme risks)||Sometimes recommended||14||2||4||20|
|Land use reform||Sometimes recommended||9||7||4||20|
|Smoking in the developing world||Sometimes recommended||12||5||3||20|
Click through to see our reasoning for each problem. If there’s no link, the profile isn’t yet complete, but will be published soon. There are many problems we didn’t yet investigate, and the list could easily change.
One point higher means the problem is roughly three times as pressing, though this is highly approximate. See the full detail on how we did the ratings.
Potentially promising problem areas we haven’t yet rated
Notes: Not in order. The articles we link to are just interesting sources that make an argument for the area, we don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions.
- Science policy and infrastructure – read more
- Improving collective decision making – see this out-of-date profile.
- Cheap green energy / solar energy – read more here and here.
- Foreign policy and peace – especially as a strategy to reduce catastrophic risks.
- Trade reform – read more
- Advocating increased taxation of the super rich.
- Democratic reform – such as the proposals by Erik Olin Wright or the ideas Y Combinator is interested in.
- Medical research into how to slow ageing – read more
- Reducing migration restrictions – read more here and here.
- Promoting human rights.
- Increasing aid spending and effectiveness – read more.
- Criminal justice reform – read more.
- Biomedical research – read more.
- Human enhancement – read more.
- Expanding moral concern through the humanities – read more.
And many others…
The problems below seem important, but we expect would probably be rated below those already listed.
- Economic empowerment of the global poor – health seems somewhat more promising, read more
- Education in poor countries – health seems somewhat more promising, read more
- Certain types of education in rich countries – they could rate well, though broad based education reform seems crowded and hard to improve.
- Overpopulation and resource scarcity – it’s unclear how serious the problem is, and substantial effort already goes into avoiding resource shortages. Read more here and here
- General efforts to speed up technological and economic growth, as opposed to differential technological development.
If you want to be notified when we do these profiles and update our list, join the newsletter.
Which global issue should you work on?
Comparing global problems involves difficult judgement calls, so different people come to different conclusions. We made a tool that asks you some key questions, then re-ranks the lists based on your answers.
Once you have a personalised list, the next thing to factor in is your personal fit. It’s better to be outstanding in a moderately pressing area, then unmotivated in your top area. Just don’t forget people often become passionate about new areas over time.
Different problems also need different skills and resources, so some people are better placed to work on them. To learn more about what’s most needed in each problem, click through to read the full profile. If you’re early in your career, don’t feel too constrained by the skills you already have – you can build expertise where it’s most needed.