As I drive by the towering turbines that make up the many wind farms scattered across the Oklahoma plains, I get struck by the wonder of such large and intricate machines standing in an otherwise natural landscape. This is the image in my mind when I think of sustainability: man-made technology coexisting peacefully with nature while providing natural energy for human use. While this idea is not wrong, I have since learned that there are many dimensions to sustainability that I did not know were there, such as the dependency on old resources, or “old sunlight,” as it was said in The 11th Hour, to sustain the Earth’s growing population.
The greatest challenge to sustainability comes in the form of wicked problems. Some of the defining characteristics of wicked problems are their vagueness, the inability to identify a solution, the lack of an end in sight, its irreversibly, and it being urgent and unique. A wicked problem is different from a regular problem in the sense that it is like a tree, and while removing a tree may seem as simple as cutting it from the trunk, it has roots that are very deep and intricate requiring much more effort to remove. One solution will not solve a wicked problem; the solutions may vary from region to region and often result in other issues arising. In the end, the roots are far too deep and spread out to completely eradicate. Examples of these include climate change and over-consumption of materials.
In examining the reading about Easter Island, I was able to clearly see the parallels between that secluded island and the present world. Blinded by ambition and greed, the inhabitants of the island only focused on building a society that displayed success and wealth as a community rather than focusing on the long term health of their environment. As the population of the Earth booms, we rely on old resources to sustain us without stopping to think about how we will survive once they are gone. It is alarming to think about the Earth becoming so depleted that we regress as a society, and it sets in a sense of urgency and makes me want to do something about it. Climate change and overuse of the Earth’s resources are very real problems today and it is the responsibility of myself and my generation to take action against it. Many species and ecosystems are already past the point of recovery, and it is only a matter of time before our entire planet is damaged beyond repair.
My time in Wicked Problems of Industrial Practice has allowed me to reflect upon my own personal impact on the environment and be mindful of each decision I make. In doing the activity where we attempted to come up with solutions to wicked problems I realized just how difficult it will be to tackle these issues. However, if enough people are willing to be mindful and open to the challenge, it is possible to make a difference. I choose to remain optimistic for the future of our planet, and will now make more effort to think about think about the impact of my actions before I take them. Because sustainability is a global effort, it is my hope that others will take up this practice as well.