Something Wicked Comes This Way

One person can start a revolution. One person can knock down the first of thousands of dominos. All it takes is for one person to introduce a new idea or a new concept, and people will follow. Paradigms, or the collective mindset of society, can be changed by movements started by one person. It is possible! Think about straws; as a society, we never used to put any thought into using straws and where they end up. But one person, Milo Cress, started a campaign in 2011 to ban plastic straws. Milo’s campaign got so far, that thousands of people have switched to using metal straws instead of plastic ones. Even Washington, D.C. banned the use of plastic straws in restaurants. Milo was nine years old when he started his campaign. Nine! If a nine-year-old can make that big of a difference, anyone can.

            Straws are small objects that make a huge difference; but what about whole industries? What about automotive industries? Andrew Dent, during his TED Talk, stated that the automotive industry recycles 95% of their cars. When you think about how large that number really is, you can see how big of a difference they are making. Of course, they don’t recycle 100% of every car, instead that percentage is closer to 75. Still, that is a great deal of waste that they are preventing from going to landfills.

            We have already created ourselves a wicked problem, if not many. These complex and interconnected problems have no end in sight, and if we don’t act quickly, there will be permanent harm not only to nature, but to the human race as well. These urgent problems, such as pollution and energy consumption, have vague definitions to people all across the world. Geographical features, government systems, and cultures all play a part in the definitions of these issues; the same goes for solutions. Not everyone is going to agree when the problem has been solved, we will have to settle for good enough or not good enough. And all of these solutions will have to be unique to everyone; because of geographical or governmental or cultural boundaries, solutions will have to be adapted to meet different needs. However, we must not suffer from “paralysis by analysis,” even though solutions will have irreversible effects on our economy and environment, we must act quickly and urgently to alleviate these wicked problems.

            If we do not act urgently, we will end up like the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island. Having limited resources, restricted diets, and nowhere to escape to, are some of the things we have in common with the people of Easter Island. These people became so competitive with each other, much like how we are today, that they ended up using all of their resources and cutting down all of their trees. And for what? They only dug themselves a hole that they could not get out of. They ran out of food and had to resort to cannibalism. And they could not leave the island because they had no trees to make rafts. Today, all countries are going head-to-head in trying to have the largest economy, the highest quality of life possible. If we continue, just like Paul Gilding stated in his TED talk, we are going to have to fight for civilization. But of course, we can do it, we’ll get out of the problem, but “it takes a good crisis to get us going.” We may think that we can escape to Mars and start over, but we need to be realistic. By the time we actually find out a way to leave, most of the people that are currently living, will probably be long gone. Instead of trying to leave, we need to try and solve.

            Everyone has a different perspective on sustainability. Me? I used to think that sustainability was just a fancy word for recycling. After reading and watching people talk about what they think, my definition has evolved. Now, I view sustainability as thinking generations ahead of my decisions and how they will come back to bite me in the butt. Hopefully, my decisions will give a good pat on the back in a few decades, but the key is to think before you act. Native Americans have somewhat of the same view as I do. They ask themselves how they can maintain their current lifestyle without depleting that which sustains the future. By thinking generations ahead and what their actions will have on the future, they embody the idea of intergenerational responsibility. I looked at my own carbon footprint, and I was pleasantly surprised. At 24 tons of carbon dioxide per year, I am 50% better than average. Of course, this probably is not exactly right since I don’t know how much the water or electricity bill is. I simply guessed by the fact that I hardly ever have the lights on, and I take pretty quick showers. I am hoping to better my footprint by reducing the amount of goods that I purchase. If I cut down on the online shopping that I do, then that could possibly create a chain effect and reduce my footprint.

            Tame problems are nowhere near the severity of wicked problems. While wicked problems are complex, non-linear, and withstand traditional problem solving means, tame problems are linear, sequential, and have a common enemy. Their solutions are simpler to find, such as medical vaccines. Wicked problems require many people to be on board, and while this is hard to accomplish, we can each do our part. The wicked problem that I am looking to research, is energy consumption in buildings. With rising temperatures, and increasing standards of living, energy consumption is soaring through the roof. The increasing levels of consumption is leading to the depletion of the ozone layer, and major changes in climate change and global warming. 

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