In our discussion this week of wicked problems (their definition, qualities, examples thereof, and the socio-economic factors that contribute to them) I have found myself in a situation that is unusual for me. I’m not in the habit of discussing environmental issues, political issues, or social issues, generally speaking; this isn’t because I’m uninformed or because I don’t care, but rather it’s because I have somewhat black-and-white views, which tend to be callous in some people’s opinions, and because I have a materialistic mindset which tends to avoid the uncomfortable truth; that I contribute directly to some of these issues.
Before the beginning of this class, I wasn’t familiar with the term “Wicked Problem”. I have to admit that I thought it was an attempt at a clever course title. Even now, I have certain frustrations with the idea of a “wicked problem”. I feel that, as they’ve been defined, they possess a certain defeatist attitude, in defining them as issues which are impossible to completely define, to resolve, or to even understand, and that a failure to do these things will result in imminent harm to people and/or to the environment. I do find myself fascinated with the idea of them, and in particular I’m fascinated by the Easter Island parallels to our society.
I had always understood the problems we’ve discussed; I keep myself informed of current events, and I consider myself to have a fair handle on these topics. However, the Easter Island highlighted the interconnectedness to these issues that I had previously underestimated. For example, how with one core problem (for the Easter Islanders, the failure to regulate their consumption of lumber in their pursuit of prestige; for us, the unchecked consumption of all our resources, but especially oil) there is a snowballing effect, not just in a linear or domino-toppling fashion but in a radial set of issues spanning a lot of unexpected consequences. In brief, my most major takeaway is that I see more clearly that “wicked problems” are not singular, but that they center around a handful of core issues, the complex interrelationships of which extend to a vast range of other issues.
This gives me the attitude, so far, that one way to tackle these would be to address the clear frontrunners for Most Imminent Threat to Our Existence. Specifically, I think that by almost entirely replacing our use of fossil fuels with renewable energies such as solar or wind power, or ideally clean nuclear power, we could put a stop to a host of other issues. Chief among those are climate change, pollution, and economic and political dependence on oil giants, to name a few. In addition, many problems cascading from these more sweeping issues might be (at least partially) addressed, such as: loss of biodiversity, coral bleaching, soil erosion, rising sea levels, proliferation of natural disasters, dangerous speculation in the oil industry, and irresponsible policies made by politicians with oil dependencies.
After this first week, I would also note that I think this class will be much more engaging than I expected. I first approached the topic with a certain level of irreverence because, to be completely honest, I’m a product of a consumer culture, and I recognize and enjoy that. However, I look forward to examining these issues further because the idea of the “wicked problem” has proven to be much more intriguing to me than anticipated.