If the World were a Souffle and Humans were the Eggs, we’d have a Problem.

Hello, readers and classmates!

In this last week of Wicked Problems in Industrial Practice, we focused on collapse – collapse of Easter Island, and the looming potential collapse of humanity as modern-day environmental issues continue becoming more urgent every year. The subject of collapse became evident when our class watched the first hour of the movie The 11th Hour, a documentary about the detrimental environmental impact of humans on our planet, starting in the Industrial Revolution growing rapidly to this day. In this film, a lot of important environmental topics were pulled to the forefront: carbon impact of human beings, waste mismanagement, destruction of biodiversity, deforestation, and so much more. This movie became a really great launching point for the week, as we talked about some of the parallels between The 11th Hour and the collapse of Easter Island civilization. Because this wasn’t my first time talking about the collapse of Easter Island or issues in sustainability globally, the conversations we had this week as a class were ones I felt I could contribute a lot to in terms of perspective and trying to initiate meaningful discussion.

The conversation that stuck with me the most at the end of the week was from the small-group, Jamboard-style discussion we had about the collapse of Easter Island. In the first question posed, our small group discussed whether the collapse of civilization on Easter Island was truly inevitable. Though the team quickly came to a unanimous agreement that the collapse wasn’t inevitable, we spent longer than expected agreeing on what the reasons were that the Easter Island mess could’ve been avoided. Many of my suggestions and contributions to that discussion were centered on the cultural and social structure on the island. It was clear that a culture of competition between tribes was destructive over time, particularly as the Easter Islander civilization began struggling, but I thought the conversation of destructive cultures of competition was far more interesting as it related to today’s capitalist society, which we discussed in the second question about what challenges remain the same. To me, the most powerful insight I brought to the conversation about Question #2 was about the greed that continues to be instilled in modern human civilizations, as companies fight for consumption and humans fight each other for a raise in status and wealth.

A lot of environmental issues were discussed this week, but the topic that I found most compelling and that was surprisingly least discussed was that of population growth, particularly when I read about how population growth impacted the outcome of Easter Island. In a poll sent out by Dr. Armstrong about which issues were the most detrimental, I think I was likely one of the few to choose population growth, mainly because class discussion stopped at the two most voted options – deforestation and destruction of biodiversity. While these two topics are beyond important to environmental health on the planet, they feel far more reversible with modern-day technology than population growth, which seems to exacerbate and multiply the other two issues on its own. Similar to the cautionary history of Easter Island, population growth creates a far greater need for resources, fosters a greater sense of unhealthy competition, and invites larger environmental issues with more hands involved in the labor of destroying forests or building cities for that large population to survive and thrive. And I think the logic is really simple here – if the world had half the population it has now, we’d likely have a far less competitive capitalist society, plus we’d have only torn down half the forests we have at this point and we likely wouldn’t be causing the extinction of 55,000 species every year (according to scientists on The 11th Hour). Also, more than likely, we wouldn’t even be thinking about global warming because half the corporations, cars, and factories would be operating at this point, and they would be operating to serve half of us. As Dr. Armstrong discussed what makes a problem “wicked,” this is the topic that I could not stop thinking about because it already feels like such an impossible issue! How can we lower the population without impeding on human rights? How can we talk about overpopulation without considering cultures and beliefs that are strictly against contraception? How can we have meaningful conversations about this topic without making people in the conversation feel uncomfortable about existing in the first place?

To bring this blog post to a close, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite desserts – souffle. Much like in a classic souffle recipe, those perfectly whipped egg whites provide the structure needed to make the final product work. If human beings are the eggs in that recipe, and the earth is a souffle, we’re creating a massive imbalance between the eggs and everything else needed to make the recipe work. Without some moderation in the near future, the outcome is clear: when this souffle of a world heats up, we are in for a massive collapse.

Alright, I’m going to go bake and think about my personal carbon footprint now – thanks for reading, folks!

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