Changes in Sustainable Thought

Growing up, I could care less about the environmental impact that my lifestyle may have on the planet. Through personal growth and scholastic learning, I have completely changed my viewpoint on the matter. Wanting to fulfil a sustainable design minor at the end of my 4th year in college, I was informed I had to take a Wicked Problems of Industrial Practice class to do so. I for one was immediately interested, not only because it had the word wicked in the class title, but because it was an area that I have been growing evermore passionate about.  

Coming in to the class, I thought of sustainability in broad terms and primarily in the realm of energy conservation. Now I look at it as a passive and active activity that we can do in our everyday life. From influencing government policies and making your voice heard, to simply recycling and knowing that your everyday actions have direct impacts on your environment, the simple changes we can make in our life could contribute a lot to the common good.

The idea of self narrative vs paradigm is also an interesting concept that can be in addition to this lifestyle change. I, and many people like me, have this idea that a single person cannot change the environment with our single actions. This thought could not be more wrong. If you can change your personal self-narrative to a more sustainable and environmentally conscious one, people around you will take notice and be more inclined to make these small changes as well. Making a difference doesn’t just happen, individual people making a conscious decision to be better makes a difference. Taking a survey to find the environmental impact my basic lifestyle has on the global ecosystem was truly eye opening. My average annual carbon footprint is 19.59 tons which would take approximately 280 trees to offset. It is a simple number to overlook, but one that I will try and think of more often when making decisions and try to lower that number in the coming years.

The biggest question I had when coming to class would have to be what exactly a wicked problem was and was surprised to find out that it was an actual defined term that is commonly used. Learning the criteria of what makes a problem wicked vs tame the first day of class answered all of these questions. While tame problems might still seem like big and important issues, to be truly wicked, it has to have a vague definition of the problem with variable solutions. Unfortunately, the solutions have no end point, pose irreversible effects, and require a unique approach. Most importantly, there needs to be a sense of great urgency within the problem itself. The 11th hour documentary focused primarily on the wicked problem of environmental change and global warming. The idea that humanity constantly tries to compete with nature instead of trying to work in harmony with it was a notion that was very interesting to me. Is it not our duty to be one with the natural world and not constantly try and suppress it? If we really want to combat these stark changes in our environment, we need to stop looking at the bottom line and making profits and start thinking what we are doing to the world around us and what kind of world we are leaving for generations to come.

The notion of integrational responsibility is a very interesting one to me. We seem to have a problem as a species to only think of the immediate payoff of our actions and not how those actions will influence and effect future generations. We watched a short video in class about a native American man whose culture has been worried about this for thousands of years. One thing that they do to think of the future of their environment and their impact on it is when they pick flowers for dye making, they only pick every 7th flower to make sure that they do not scalp the natural region of these resources and keep the ecosystem intact. I believe we can learn a lot from this idea as our planet continues to grow in population at an exponential rate. Now more than ever we need to think of our intergenerational responsibilities. We can simply not keep consuming at the same rate that we have always done without making serious adaptations to how we do it. If we continue to only think about the environment as a means to make profit and not how we are effecting it and leaving it for our future generations, our situation will soon become a large scale Easter Island. Just as the inhabitance of Easter Island, we are consuming our resources at a very alarming rate that cannot possibly sustain us or our environment as we grow in size. We should take the fall of Easter Island as a warning sign on what could happen at a global scale instead of just looking at it as an unfortunate tale of one of the worlds most advanced civilizations at the time.

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