I think we can do better.

This week in Wicked Problems we talked about two topics: Sustainability in fashion design and whether or not poverty is responsible for environmental degradation. As we went into Tuesday’s discussion on fashion, I was skeptical about suitability and fashion being compatible. Fashion is constantly changing, something the article brought up right away. The author talked about a few suggestions on how to make design more sustainable, but I still didn’t feel like they would work. I think for most people, when they think about sustainable fashion, they think about keeping your clothes longer, or making something old something new and stylish. However, as we dug deeper into what the author of this article was really saying, those concepts really won’t work. What the author suggested as a more viable, and radical, solution is to design things that are recyclable. Textile waste is a huge problem that we are faced with, and creating products that last forever won’t solve that problem. When you really look at the issue and realize that, yes, fashion is always changing, and no, people won’t try to make their clothes cooler for longer than they really are, it is easier to come up with a solution that doesn’t change the facts, but rather works with them. So there it is, the big idea: to design clothes and shoes and accessories that are from materials that promote sustainability through being recyclable and possibly even decomposable. This idea is different than what is usually discussed because in order for this to happen the aesthetic will change completely.

So, as the class wrestled with that idea, many decided it wasn’t a good one or that the public wouldn’t accept it. I think differently. I agree with the big idea the author talks about, but not the way in which they talk about implementing it. The author talked about working out the kinks slowly, starting small and seeing what works. And while that is a perfectly acceptable idea, I think we can do better. Some things do change slowly, little by little, but we don’t have time for that. My generation has seen huge change happen quickly, almost all at once, because a small group supported it, and pushed it, until everyone jumped on board. The problems were there for a while, but it was as if the support came all at once. Take the legalization of gay marriage, or racial equality, for example. Both have been problems people faced for centuries, but recently the people gave the support needed to push the issues to the font and really start making a change. I think this idea can be applied to sustainability. We’ve been staring at the problem for a long time, but we don’t have to take a long time to do something about it. It is all about how we frame it, and who we get to support it.

Going into Thursday’s topic about poverty and environmental degradation, I was concerned because after reading the material I was left a little confused. There were a lot of big words that I felt unnecessary, and I found many of the arguments, even from “opposing” sides, to be repetitive. I found myself on the “no” side of the argument, that poverty does not cause environmental degradation. But I wasn’t really sure how the two sides were different because the majority of the reasons I found to support the “no” argument, were also brought up in the “yes” argument. While poverty can’t, in most cases, support sustainability, it is not the sole cause of environmental degradation. Poorer communities may use up all their recourses because they don’t have excess, but they aren’t always harming the environment in the processes. Additionally, not having excess means that nothing is actually going to waste, which can’t be said for wealthy communities. In most poor, rural, areas communities get by on agriculture. This is much more sustainable than putting in large supermarkets or building housing additions such as richer communities do.

So, you could argue that yes, poverty does contribute to environmental degradation, but so can wealth. Just because we look at poverty and see that they do not have the recourses or maybe even education to promote sustainability, does not mean that those with the recourses and education are actually doing something about it. Some of the ideas tossed around to help this included heavier government involvement, and big business partnerships. I don’t really think either of those options are viable, and even if they were implemented I don’t believe the outcome would be a positive one. Looking back at history and thinking of similar situations, the players with more power and money end up abusing the wishes of the little guy. That being said, the little guys don’t typically even want help, especially not from a powerful and threatening source. So today I still struggle with those ideas and how to refine them, or if something else can be done entirely different. I suppose that is what makes environmental degradation a wicked problem.

Neither of these discussions were the best part of my week, however. Doing a walking meditation through a labyrinth was the best part. It was such a beautiful day, and as I tried to follow the normal habits of struggling to focus or to think about my breathing or getting distracted like I do in sitting meditation, I realized that it wasn’t the same struggle. I slowly slipped into focus on my walking and the smell of the fresh outdoor air and I thought about how wonderful it is that seasons change. The fall, in that moment, was the most incredible thing to me and I was so grateful that it had arrived. As I thought about that I applied it to my life and began to be thankful that seasons change in life, too. And that is just as beautiful a thing.

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