“You never know until you try it,” has been my motto for the first two weeks of class. Upon entering Wicked Problems I have to admit I was not super thrilled about the class. I figured it would be another monotonous class centered around “reduce, reuse, recycle,” which I’ve heard a million times as a child. However, after two weeks of class I can clearly see the focus of the class is geared toward identifying wicked problems and implementing ways to improve them. Wicked problems are true to their name, defined as problems that are evil and don’t have a “quick fix.” Characteristics of wicked problems that make them so “wicked” are vague problem definitions, variable or undefined solutions, solutions may have no endpoint, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and urgency of attention. My original definition of sustainability was defined as finding ways to create products, spaces, or processes that ultimately benefit the environment. I’ve had previous exposure to sustainability practices, but in a way people typically don’t think of. I have grown up and lived on a cattle ranch my entire life, where my family has to take special care of the environment and our animals since our ranch land receives very little rain. We have to be wise in our decision-making, concerning grazing rotations, when to feed our cattle hard feed, and using sustainable means to spray mesquite plants and other weeds that prevent grass growth, to name a few. As doubtful as I was entering this class, I was interested to see how sustainability connected my background experience and my area of profession (interior design) that I am pursuing.
After reading The Lessons of Easter Island and watching The 11th Hour my mind immediately made a connection and related situations from these materials to the Dr. Suess movie, The Lorax. In the film, a man known as the Once-ler travels to a beautiful land full of animals, rivers, flowers, and forests of Truffula trees. After creating a sweater from the Truffula trees that consumers go nuts over, the Once-ler builds a booming enterprise of chopping down Truffula trees to create his sweaters. His fossil fuel-based company ruins the once beautiful land, leaking oil into the rivers, polluting the air, and of course, destroying the trees. When the Lorax (Keeper of the Trees) asks the Once-ler why he’s doing this, he simply answers, “I’m just building the economy.” The Once-ler’s mindset is exactly what producers speak about in The 11th Hour as happening in the real world; how fossil fuel companies are driven by greed and a “need” to improve and keep up with the economy and ruining our earth while they’re at it. Aren’t the environmental effects and motives behind production the EXACT SAME between our world today and a children’s movie? An idea expressed by several narrators in The 11th Hour specifically stuck in my mind; the earth and its resources are being seen as income, rather than an asset. While I believe it’s our privilege to use and work the land, the power to care for it and improve it also rests solely with us.
The ending of the Once-ler’s business in The Lorax mirrors the horrific ending of Easter Island; he chops down the land’s very last Truffula tree, just as the islanders did on Easter Island. The land becomes decimated both in The Lorax and Easter Island; the soil can’t hold nutrients, animals lose their habitats-leading to loss of biodiversity, and the climate changes. This is all driven by population growth becoming excessive enough that the land cannot sustain everyone. While the Once-ler loses his stake in the economy, Easter Islanders became trapped on their dying island, resorting to barbaric practices. Both examples prove to show the ultimate end effect of using our resources irresponsibly and not valuing nature. Both of these stories end with a lose-lose situation for nature and the inhabitants. Is that where our world is headed? While The Lorax is a children’s movie, Easter Island is a realistic example of what happens when we completely use up a valuable resource that cannot be man-made or substituted. It presents how losing one resource can completely and literally throw the surrounding environment into cascading chaos. I was not aware of the Easter Island story so I had a huge paradigm shift in my way of thinking about sustainability and our future generations. I can only imagine, if this was how an island of a couple thousand people ended up, how might our Earth result in a couple of generations if we don’t care for it? I was super surprised to find that my carbon footprint was around 20 tons per year. It’s hard for me to believe that I have produced double digit ton increments every year of my life for almost 20 years. It makes me cringe to even begin to think about how the math adds up to accounting for the other seven billion people in the world producing waste.
While I was almost bored to learn more about sustainability in this class, I have had a significant paradigm shift over the course of two weeks by having more empathy and making small changes where I can. Being able to connect The 11th Hour and Lessons of Easter Island to a movie I have seen made it more relatable and further emphasized the importance of wicked problems in our world. I wasn’t even aware of the presence of wicked problems in my field of interior design. I am eager to dive into this subject and find wicked problems that are plaguing my field of passion. Two weeks of Wicked Problems has emphasized that it is our responsibility on this earth to collaborate with each other and do our part, no matter how small, in our jobs, degrees, and professions to create a more sustainable world. As the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”