The Inescapable Wickedness of Ourselves

Have you ever repeated a word so much that it begins to not even sound like a word anymore?  This configuration of sounds that once had meaning has come back to your ears as nothing more than a group of vowels and consonants with the vague notion that together those characters meant something.  Our world has done this to ‘sustainability.’ It is a word that has been so loosely tossed around that it seems to have lost its meaning. Everyone seems to “know” what sustainability is, but few truly comprehend what it means.  I was no exception. Sustainability has become defined by its context, a skewed meaning created to fit the needs of the moment. In the realm of architecture, sustainability is widely known as net-zero buildings, reducing sustainability to not much more than energy consumption.  I have come to see that it encompasses so much more than that. Reducing energy consumption alone is not what will save this world for the generations after us. 

At the beginning of this course I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The Wicked Problems of Industrial Practices. I asked myself, what does that mean?  Industrial practices I understand. That was a term I could grasp, but a wicked problem?  What was that? Wicked. What makes a problem wicked? Originally I had assumed that “wicked” was just a fun adjective attached to the problem to make the class sound more interesting. Oh boy, how wrong I was.  As I have come to find out, a wicked problem is “a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize,” or is a problem “whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point.”  I knew that problems like this existed, but giving them a tangible name and definition was something that made them even more shocking to me. However, as shocking as it seemed to be, giving it a name made these kinds of issues real; and therefore, gives hope for a resolution. But with a definition that vague, how does one even begin to characterize a wicked problem, let alone try to solve one?  Well luckily along with its definition there are six characteristics that make a problem wicked. A problem must have a vague problem definition, it’s solution will not work everywhere, the solution does not have an end point, if a solution is found it likely will pose irreversible effects, each solution will require unique approaches, and these wicked problems have a sense of urgency. So the question is, how do you these characteristics differ from lets say, a tame problem?  A tame problem is the kind of issues that we are used to. They are sequential with a common enemy and the majority on board to finding a solution to this issue. A tame problem doesn’t have people saying that it is a myth and that the problem just doesn’t exist (like global warming, etc.). Tame problems are apparent. In your face. But a wicked problem, is caused by those it affects. There is no one person or entity to blame. Hence, why it is wicked.

We have the perfect case study in which demonstrates the utter devastation that a wicked problem can cause when left unsolved.  Easter Island. The desolate island of today is a far cry from the lush paradise it once was. At one time, the island was home to one of the most civilized nations of its time leaving behind towering statues as their only reminisce of existing at all.  A population of people driving themselves from existence because of their lifestyle. Overusing the island’s natural resources to the point that nothing was left. Overpopulation, deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss. Hmmmm… Seems a bit familiar doesn’t it?  Today, we live in a world of technology and consumerism. As our world grows, becoming “smarter” and more developed by the day, our natural world is fades away. Overpopulation, deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss; all brought about because that is what society demands.  The parallels of Easter Island and our world today are too many to be ignored. It is a warning, a sign, a glimpse into what we will become if we don’t do something. DON’T YOU SEE?! Look up. Where is nature now? For the people of Easter Island it was ceremonies and war; and for us, technology and our material greed.  Look up from phone before its too late. Our world is dying just like that long forgotten island. 

Not all hope is lost.  Some see what we are doing to our one and only home.  Some even try to do something. How does one reach a world so caught up in technology?  Creators of the documentary “The 11th Hour” knew how. If you can’t get people to look up from their screens, take the problem to them.  “The 11th Hour” was terrifying. Or at least it was to me. To see what we have done and are continuing to do. It was eye-opening to see our forests being replaced by deserts, our fish being replaced by plastic, our animals dying, our ice melting.  What will we have left if we keep continuing down this path. And what about our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren? What kind of world will be left for them? Nothing but desert and plastic. It is all of our responsibility NOW to do something, and it begins with one.  With the emergence of social media, the reach and impact that one person, one post can have on the global is astounding. We live in a world today that paradigm shifts DO happen overnight. One person can change the world. One self-narrative does matter. One like, one retweet CAN save the world for the future.

So what can I do to make a change?  Well I found out my carbon footprint is 11 tons of CO2 per year, which is 15% less than the average.  Yay me! Unfortunately, it isn’t lower because I do travel quite a bit to and from home. I also fly quite a bit. But living is a small studio apartment and my choices in food were much lower than the averages which made up for all of the travel.  I have a long way to go in making my narrative a sustainable one, but I’ll get there.

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