My original thoughts on this class were “what is a wicked problem?” and “what does it have to do with sustainability?” My original assumption about a wicked problem was that it had to do with morality or ethics in relation to global issues. Considering societies on a global scale can’t agree on morality in general, this was a very easy assumption to dismiss. A wicked problem is, in reality, a combination of six characteristics:
- Vague problem definitions- consider the issue of global warming/climate change. If a society can’t even agree on a name or a cause, there is no clear definition.
- Variable solutions- there are multiple ways to approach the issue of declining biodiversity. Rehabilitation, captivity, etc.
- Solutions have no endpoint- waste management can be approached from a few different directions, but as long as there is waste, there will have to be management: recycling, clean up, reduction.
- Solutions pose irreversible effects- switching to natural resources, while a very good idea, would be difficult for society to do as a whole. Depletion of those resources would happen quickly and perhaps too fast to recover.
- Solutions require unique approaches- a lot of problems don’t get solved because there isn’t an easy or even obvious way to stop them. Think about oil spills; they cause damage beyond belief but many scientists and activists have been working towards creating solutions specific to this problem. There are sponges that only soak up oil and leave water behind, and even many oil companies are training their employees how to care for wildlife that enters onto their operations.
- Urgent- for a problem to be wicked, it must be urgent. Think about landfills, and the sea-fills. These are not only killing the ocean ecosystems, but in turn causing problems to humans as well.
Not every problem is going to be wicked. In fact, in our Activity 1 we looked at a few problems that were considered wicked in the video The Eleventh Hour. While about half of the issues fit into all 6 characteristics, I felt that the other problems only fit into 4 or 5 of the characteristics, making them only partially wicked. The Eleventh Hour video talked about how the industrial revolution and growing population have caused a large majority of our wicked problems. However, the video also blames natural disasters and predictable events on the human factor. Natural disasters have been happening for a long time and can be seen through historical records from natives and artifacts, and these events should not be blamed on the human factor and more on the natural flow of the earth. Another issue I had with the video was that many of the people interviewed were not experts in any field at all, much less scientific fields. There were a few actors, a couple politicians, and maybe 2 or 3 scientists. For research and information to be credible, it needs to come from a credible source. Besides this, one of the particular scientists talked about how the earth had already had a mass extinction because of stagnant ocean water. If the earth has already had a large-scale issue because of a resting global temperature, then wouldn’t that mean earth simply goes through these cycles to keep itself safe and healthy?
Wicked problems obviously have to do with sustainability because sustainability is the interrelationship of the environment, society, and economic systems – what most wicked problems are caused by or affect. Sustainability is an intergenerational issue, where wicked problems are caused by development for the present and disregarding or prohibiting the needs of the future. Easter Island is a prime example of this intergenerational problem. The inhabitants of the island not only overpopulated it, but depleted the natural resources and went to war with each other. The most basic layout of their history is beyond similar to our own and should be a warning sign to us about our future.