Before the beginning of Wicked Problems, I thought that I had a pretty strong grasp on the concept of environmentalism and sustainability as a whole. As an environmentally-conscious person, I have always had an awareness of the declining state of the Earth and how important it is for us to make a change now, before it’s too late. However, I have already gained a more refined understanding of sustainability, especially in the context of the wicked problems of our world. Before, I saw sustainability as an essentially interchangeable term for reducing, reusing, and recycling the things available to us. While this is also true, I have learned that it is also about making the most of what is left on earth as our resources continue to dwindle. This ties into wicked problems because, although these worldly issues are near-impossible to solve, the work towards solution can be drawn from sustainable practices. However, it is extremely difficult to reach a resolution due to social complexities preventing a simple solution. Because people have countless different ideas, opinions, cultures, and other backgrounds, it is very difficult to reach an agreement.
The six characteristics that define wicked problems include vague problem definitions, variable solutions, solutions have no endpoint, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and urgency. Vague problem definitions and variable solutions refers to the difficulty in pinpointing an issue because it is defined differently by stakeholders. This causes problems in universal agreement over a solution. Solutions do not have a set endpoint because other problems are created along the way to finding a resolution, therefore solutions must adapt. Solutions posing irreversible effect refers to the effectiveness of a solution cannot be verified prior to implementation, which relies on trial and error testing. Urgency is due to the fact that if we do not act now, further damage will be caused. Finally, because each situation is distinct and based on individual circumstances, the same solution will not be equally effective for everyone.
There are various perspectives from which to view sustainability. For instance, in his TED talk, Andrew Dent discusses the value of thrift and how useful this tool and mindset can be in the current state of the world. This idea includes things such as recycling car parts to make new cars, using demolition waste to create new buildings, and more. Essentially, if we continue to implement this concept of giving products a second life, we will be able to slow the damage being done to the planet. Similarly, Native Americans also have a unique take on sustainability. Many believe that, because everything in nature is connected, a single action has implications on all other things. This means that we must be deeply aware of each and every one of our actions in an effort to prevent as much damage as possible.
In an alarming yet eye-opening reading, I learned that many unfortunate parallels can be drawn between Easter Island and our current society and environment. The whole of their existence was entirely dependent on their limited resources, although they were not able to create a system that effectively balanced their lifestyle with the environment. This is highly relevant to our society today in the way that we so carelessly deplete our resources on account of our lifestyles without minding the inevitable repercussions. However, if we start making changes to our daily lives by adding sustainable practices, our outcome will be much more successful than that of Easter Island.
In light of the topic of change, it is important to keep in mind the value to making self-narrative shifts on an individual basis. Far too many people believe that they cannot personally change the state of the world, however with every purchase, use of a resource, or wasteful habit, that one person is shifting the landscape of the environment. If that concept is carried out by the vast majority of people, then that is where large-scale change can be seen, whether positive or negative. On the other hand, paradigm shifts stem from a collective mentality derived from values, beliefs, assumptions, and more. This mindset is the lens through which we view the world, allowing us to set goals, develop structures, parameters, and rules, build barriers, and influence patterns of practice. These are the large-scale waves of change that can ensue if people put their differences aside and consciously try to find a common solution. An example of a self-narrative can be observed through my personal carbon footprint. After calculating my various activities, household information, and environmental impacts, I was provided with very eye-opening information about how my habits truly affect the Earth. This inspired me to be even more attentive to the impact that I am making, as I begin to make small changes in my daily life.
Finally, after researching the various wicked problems in our society today, I have chosen to focus on the topic of labor conditions in the manufacturing industry. There are entirely too many people, often in developing countries, who are being forced to work under the most hazardous conditions and exploitation simply so they can make a living. I plan to further research specific countries, companies, and safety concerns involved with working conditions and fast fashion.