Wicked Problem Solving for All Generations

As a member of Generation Z, I have never lived in a world without the threat of climate change hanging over my head. My generation was born into environmental catastrophe, and while a lot of pressure has been put on us to live sustainably, most of us haven’t been given much insight into what that entails. We are constantly being told to try and save the planet, while also being told how hopeless the future of it is. Words like eco-friendly and sustainable are thrown around a lot, but I haven’t ever had a clear understanding of what that meant. Going into class, I thought sustainability was just another way of saying green, but I’ve has my eyes open to just how much deeper it really is. Sustainability isn’t just about caring for the environment, it means that with every move we make to meet our needs in the present, we have to be actively working to make sure that those choices don’t have a negative impact on the Earth’s future.

One of the first steps to living more sustainability is recognizing that it is a wicked problem. There is no one definite solution, unlike a tame problem which can be solved with a series of steps. Trying to solve a problem without an easily identifiable solution is daunting, especially when there is no stopping rule that can signal to us that the issue has been solved. At first, this felt hopeless to me. How is my generation supposed to work towards a goal when the race started before we were even born and we can’t see the finish line? Or even know what the finish line looks like? But the more I read, the more I realized that maybe not having a definite solution is better, because it means that there are so many more paths we can take. The Rittel-Webber reading helped me recognize that our solutions have to be as multi-faceted as the problems themselves. Science and engineering are so important to the environmental field but it also goes further than that. If we just leave the work up to scientists, only so much of an impact can be made. This has to be approached from as many angles as possible to help make the most change. As long as the choices we make are made with careful consideration about the future, we have nothing to lose and everything to learn.

But how are we, as individuals, supposed to help solve these large scale issues? It is easy to tell ourselves, I am just one person, how am I supposed to help? But there are billions of people in this world, and we each have so many small opportunities every day to make an impact. Small changes can add up. My car may be the easiest way to get to places, but by choosing to walk to places nearby, I can greatly lower my carbon footprint because I won’t be releasing fuel into the air. I can also make environmental changes to the amount of trash and waste I find by collecting and disposing of it properly. 

I realize now more than ever how important sustainability is. These problems may have started long before my birth, but the consequences are very real to me, and every day more people are born into this world who will also have to face the consequences. That is why this topic is so important. The future is approaching, whether we prepare for it or not. My generation is not the first and will not be the last to suffer the effects of climate change, and every day the problem grows. This is an inter-generational problem, which means we all bear an equal part of the responsibility in trying to solve it, so we can protect those who come after us, and hopefully make the world better for them. And as the “11th Hour” documentary pointed out, we are not the only ones being affected. Humans see themselves as the superior being, and while this way of thinking often leads to choices that may be good for us, it’s also why we often fail to take into account the negative impact that it has on the other creatures on this planet. If we are truly the superior being, we need to focus that energy on helping make the future safer for the next generation and the other living beings that share this Earth with us.

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