The hippies were right. There, I said it. The group of people that have been ridiculed for decades were actually onto something. While I personally have always considered myself a “tree hugger,” I did not fully understand the impact of my unsustainable actions until recently. Though I have recycled for quite a while and will lecture anyone about the evils of plastic bags, I have always felt that I am still lacking in my effort to help preserve our planet. Before this class I was not able to properly articulate the wickedness of climate change and unsustainable practices.
There are different categories of problems in our world. There are tame problems which are easily defined, have a clear solution, and can be actively acted against. While “tame problems” are still relevant issues, they are not nearly as daunting as wicked problems. Wicked problems are not cut-and-dried. They are excruciatingly complicated to the point where one feels as if their brain will burst. Just when you think you’ve solved it, ten new issues arise from your solution.
There are six specific characteristics that must be present in order for a problem to be classified as “wicked”. The first is that the definition of the problem is painfully vague. Not everyone will agree on the extent of an issue, or even what the exact issue is. The second is that there is not one definite solution to said problem. These problems are entirely subjective and the solution tends to vary from person to person. The third characteristic is that there is no end in sight. The problem cascades upon itself and unintended consequences build up to overwhelming proportions. The fourth is that our solutions to these wicked problems pose irreversible effects. We are not able to test out our theories and solutions through simple trial-and-error testing. We cannot know if our solution will work, or even what consequences it will hold in store. In order to properly address a wicked problem, our solutions have to be widescale. Because of this, the consequences are unfortunately irreversible. The fifth characteristic is that solutions require unique approaches. Unfortunately, even when we come up with effective widescale solutions, they are not applicable to everyone. Wicked problems are so tangled up in the political, economic, and even cultural delicacies of our world that there is no possible way to find a solution that is “one size fits all”. The sixth and final characteristic of a wicked problem is that this problem is urgent. If we do not act there will be a permanent scar. Though we may not fully understand an issue, we are forced to act and seek solutions in our blindness. To do nothing would be far worse than acting inappropriately.
One wicked problem that was brought to my attention many years ago was the issue of overpopulation. Our population is growing at a rate that we simply cannot sustain. I have noticed that many people in my generation have a strong sense of intergenerational responsibility about having children. Many of my friends have stated they don’t feel that it is right to bring a child into a world that is slowly killing itself. I certainly see their point, and have decided to dedicate my future to caring for children that have been brought into this world and then neglected. Instead of having children of my own, I plan on fostering and adopting children in need. I view this as one less thing for our overpopulated world to worry about, while simultaneously caring for one of our most vulnerable populations.
While I am confident in my ability to make a difference in that wicked problem, I feel almost helpless when looking at the issue of deforestation. Over the weekend I argued with my fiancé about why we cannot cut down the tree that is in the middle of our backyard. Our backyard is a very steep hill. It simply cannot handle the erosion caused by our crazy Oklahoma rains. The grass grows in random patches and we have deep holes in random places throughout the yard that have been washed away over the summer. The tree in the middle of our yard is one of the few things that helps keep our yard intact. While my fiancé argues that the tree is “ugly”, “inconveniently placed”, and “bug-infested”, I begin ranting about how deforestation was one of the biggest downfalls of Easter Island. Eventually my fiancé gave up, and my backyard tree will live to see another flood. However, my thoughts are plagued with a sense of inadequacy. Yes, I saved this one tree, but the Amazon rainforest still burns. Yes, I saved this tiny tree, but a forest the size of the United States East Coast is decimated. While it fills me with rage, my tears make no impact on putting out the 4,000 new fires that have started across Brazil. Since reading the Easter Island article my thoughts have been haunted by the thought that our entire world is inching its way toward extinction in the exact same way as the Easter Island residents. We continue to cut down trees. We continue to burn fossil fuels. We continue to produce nonbiodegradable materials.
We are doomed to repeat the history of Easter Island if we do not learn from their mistakes. We are doomed to the future described in 11th Hour if we do not change our ways. We must actively fight these wicked problems. As stated in 11th Hour, the Earth is trying to warn us about the irreversible impact of our actions. The natural disasters that our world seems to be plagued with at the moment are a direct result of climate change. We are permanently damaging our planet’s natural cycles. Why?
The most common reason is human greed. Every person (including myself) has a self-narrative that motivates them to succeed. We all want more. Self-narratives like these result in a collective cultural paradigm that fuels waste. We have this idea that if we are not growing and improving that we are not good enough. No one is content with what they have. Because of paradigms like this we have stopped asking the Earth what it can give. We have stopped valuing what it does for us. Instead we are simply taking from the Earth without thought. We are burning through its resources to meet our own personal goals. Companies like Amazon have been built around this concept of instant gratification. They have channeled into our desire to have anything we want at a moment’s notice regardless of the consequences.
Unfortunately, I am one of the millions of people who feed into this corporate monster. I am part of the problem. My personal carbon footprint is already 17% worse than the average person because of the fact that I drive over an hour to and from OSU every day. My household produces an average of 34 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Does knowing this stop me from using fossil fuels? No. Does knowing this stop me from contributing to the colossal carbon footprint of Amazon’s business? Definitely not this week. Though I am presently part of the problem, I plan on continuing to learn about sustainability at OSU. I actively plan on using this knowledge in the Apparel Design industry. I can only hope to one day make history’s hippies proud.