Identifying Wicked Problems of the Industrial Practice

Last class we covered two general topics.  Before addressing the class and its discussions, there are a few things to note.  Whether it be relevant or not, lately (and by lately I mean this semester) the issue of sustainability has really been on my mind.  While it is just past midterms in terms of the semester, ever since this school year began, I constantly find myself looking at things and places with a different light.  Walking around in Walmart I look down the aisles of merchandise asking myself if it’s all really necessary, or whether or not it will end up in a junk yard; something tossed out without a second thought as to where it may end up.  As I continue to find myself asking myself these questions more frequently, I just so happened to start the course Wicked Problems of Industrial Practice.

Back to last class, we first related ideas from the 11th Hour, a documentary voiced by Leonardo DiCaprio, to the six key characteristics of wicked problems.  This movie really hit home for me.  The six characteristics can be broken down into vague problem definition, undefined solution, no endpoint, irreversible, unique, and urgent.  These characteristics are tools to help decode and further understand whether or not a problem is classified as a wicked problem.  Pulling from the knowledge gained from the movie, the issues of steam engines and the use of fossil fuels from the Industrial Revolution is a solid example of a Wicked Problem.  One of the best ways I learn is to break down a problem or chuck of information to its core, and we did just that.  Defining the problem of a wicked problem to be complex, non-linear, and an issue that withstands traditional means of solving was the first step.  Next, we took the first characteristic for starters, a vague problem definition for, let’s say, fossil fuels could be that some people see it as an issue for we are using resources up faster than we can replenish them, and we will continue to do so until we have no more.  Others, however, may believe that fossil fuels and all other oils are necessary for our way of life and the effort the reconstruct that is a never-ending pit.  The problem with a vague problem definition is that due to multiple and diverse stockholders, there is a difficulty in defining where the core of the issue lies.  What may benefit one person may not benefit everyone.

Stopping for a second, this crushes me.  I am reasonable, and can understand that one thing may be better for one person than another, but what, just because no middle mark can be met we give up on the issue.  I’m sure there are plenty of people out there brainstorming for how to get to this middle place, but the fact that everyone turns the blind eye in the meantime accomplishes nothing.  What’s the point of being ignorant of an issue?  Does it make it easier for one to go on with their daily life?  Is the beauty of the planet and the horrors that will lay ahead and their inevitability mean nothing?

We continued like this, discussing different topics and going into detail on their differing aspects and what the sides of the story may be.  We dove deeper into each issue picking their play or role of the other characteristics as well.  My mind was overwhelmed and boggled by all the issues that are laying at my feet.  How can I help or what can I change I kept thinking as my stomach dropped further and further.

For the second half of class we discussed the historical story of Easter Island.  Beginning in the 5th century, Easter Island tells of the story of a settlement who, starting with scarce resources, was able to, for thousands of years, sustain and thrive in a way of life which exhibited both a complex social and cultural aspects, yet ultimately doomed their fate by dwindling their resources to a point of no-return.  Easter Island is often known its community that once thrived, yet soon turned barbaric to the point of cannibalism.  The large relicts of the island, or the famous stone heads, were once thought to be a mystery for without anything around that could have been used to transport the massive structures, it seemed impossible for them to be where they were.  It is now realized that the island, one whose own people couldn’t even remember how the statues had come to stand, was once abundant in trees.  However, the people relied everything on the timber, and without it, they were unable to survive.

Easter Island stands as an example, a warning, to us.  It warns against using all of the provided resources before the point of no return is right in front of our eyes.  Competition of clan on the island focused on the wrong things, like the number of statues, leading to warfare and overall madness.  What were they thinking at the time?  Did the people not realize they were cutting down the last tree of the island?  The ignorance of the people is so similar to today’s culture.  The competition of countries for power or the access to resources has already brought about warfare.  Places in the world make it their focus to have the deadliest weapons.  What do you get out of killing millions of people?  Is pride a direct gratification of the massacre of millions?

Between all the unnecessary “stuff” of this world and the overwhelming drive for competition running in our blood is too concerning.  I wonder if we will learn to work together before or after we have brought our planet to ultimate destruction, or if we will learn what’s truly important.


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