Until I Know Better

     In “The 11th Hour,” many large environmental problems are approached in a highly impactful, but somehow not overwhelming, way. Experts quickly and clearly make their points, observations, and solutions. It is gripping without being devastating- a true feat. Though I’ve seen it before, the one sad thing I still walk away with is, what about everyone else? It’s a disorienting emotional roller coaster to walk around in this culture and feel like an alien sometimes. People are so self involved, constantly on social media, talking about trivial things, and always, constantly, bottomlessly, consuming. I agree with the film- the biggest change needs to happen culturally. People aren’t paying attention. And the worst is when they just don’t care. 

     Cultural change is a wicked problem. The six characteristics of wicked problems are: vague problem definitions, variable solutions, solutions have no end point, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and they are urgent! As “The 11th Hour” points out, all environmental problems are now urgent. Every day counts. But culturally, we are dragging our feet. Why? Media exposure could be better. But also because we are constantly distracted. Not just by trivial things like consumption and social media, but with our everyday lives. As the article “Mindfulness and Sustainability” from Ecological Economics points out, it’s hard to care much about things so vague and intangible when your basic needs aren’t being met, which seems to be the case for a lot of people in Oklahoma. Maybe I should cut them a break.

     By comparison, our dependence on fossil fuels seems straightforward. We are currently in the very early stages of the inevitable transition to renewable sources of energy, like solar, wind, hydroelectric, thermoelectric… There are a lot of choices. There is a clear end point, which will be when we squeeze the last drop of dead dinosaur goo out of the ground. If it actually comes to that. Dependence on fossil fuels seems like a tame problem to me. The wicked problem in this situation is our political leadership being so strongly influenced by corporations that our politicians no longer exist to represent us. They fight economic battles for corporations that back them, like marionettes. Honestly like whores, but that seems a bit strong-worded for a school blog post. It feels accurate, though. I’m going to keep it. This is a massive problem, further complicated by corporate-owned media influences. In spite of all this, I believe change is happening. In my local election primaries, there were two amazing candidates- I wanted them both to win! Probably a democrat still won’t win, but I’m excited that I met a politician that I would want to represent me, not just the usual lesser of two evils. It’s obvious on a national scale that people have had about enough of corruption, too. I guess we’ll find out in November. This is certainly setting up to be a huge deal for a midterm election.

     When I first got into sustainability, I thought I would make more of an effort to recycle. Try composting. Get CFLs. Don’t purchase bottled water. Like, ever. I had no idea the rabbit hole I was about to fall into would change the course of the rest of my life. The old adage holds up- the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle can be a bottomless pursuit. If a wicked problem is something that has a vague definition and is complicated with no easy solution, trying to live a sustainable life can be a wicked problem itself. Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better, then do better.” That’s what sustainability means to me now. There is so much to know that I actually forget a lot of what I’ve learned over the last few years. But I do the best that I can, until I know better. There is something severely broken at almost every turn in America (and other places, I’m sure, but I feel a heavy responsibility as an American.) I regularly find out that something I buy or use is actually harmful either to my health or the environment or, more often, both. But then I find the right thing to buy. Or even better, I find that I really don’t need to buy it at all. I stopped buying the cheapest option and starting investing in stuff that I hopefully will only buy once. I vote with my dollar. And slowly, one change at a time, I make a bigger and bigger difference.

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