I live in São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, home to some 12 million people – 20 million if you count the outskirts, which have been sprawling for three decades.
That makes it a good place to observe the phenomenon I research: complex social problems.
In academia, this concept refers to problems like corruption, crime and traffic – problems that, in practice, cannot be solved. They must simply be mitigated or managed.
São Paulo is a dense city, with scarce green space and little to no animal life – no squirrels, no raccoons, not even a lot of birds. So I was astonished when, in January, I learned that scorpions had infested my neighborhood.
It turns out, people across the city and São Paulo state were having the same problem with these dangerous, venomous bugs. Statewide, scorpion stings have increased threefold over the last two decades.
Four kinds of scorpion live across Brazil, but historically only in rural areas. São Paulo residents are urbanites. We have conquered nature – or so we thought.
Brazil’s urban scorpions
Brazil’s scorpion infestation is the perfect example of how unpredictable modern life has become.
It is a hallmark of what those of us in the complex problems field call a “VUCA” world – a world that’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
Some 2.5 billion people worldwide, from Mexico to Russia, live with scorpions, which generally prefer hot and dry habitats.