Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. A three word phrase that perfectly summarizees my knowledge of sustainability until this semester. I have memories from early elementary school of earth day celebrations and lessons on being conscious within our environment. We were encouraged to recycle and compost, and turn the water off while brushing our teeth. The teachers told us we most be good stewards of the earth, seeing as it’s the only one we were given. Growing up in Oklahoma it’s clear that the primary environmental concern is water, specfically drought. Oklahoma has been in a drought for the past ten years or so. I clearly remember the summer when the lake we lived near dried to the point of having shoreline. One day we went down to play on its beaches, but the stink of dead fish ruined the atomposhphere. My point being, that while I was raised to have regard and concern for the environment, my understanding never ran deeper than the surface. I knew that the city was strict with sprinkler systems because of the drought, that we recycle to reduce waste, but I never looked or thought any deeper. 

The thought of earth eventually collapsing under the stress of supporting humanity has always been a source of worry for me. The Disney Pixar movie Wall-E, which was released when I was seven, thoroughly spooked me. Which perhaps was it’s intended purpose. It shows how complex the issue is, and how there is not just one perfect solution, and it was supposed to warn us all of the grim future for Earth if we don’t do better. The issue of sustainability is bigger than one factory, one mine, or clothing brand. The issue lies within the bigger picture. How we take and take from a planet that soon will have little more to give. Wicked Problems has done a great deal to further my understanding of sustainability and the issues that surround it. New issues are being brought to my attention every class period, and I am learning how to consider them from every angle. Take fast fashion as an example. It was not until far too recently that I fully understood how problematic the fast fashion industry is. Everything about it is harmful, from the labor source to the often stolen designs themselves. Slightly off topic, but Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have publicly critixzied for stealing Yeezy and SKIMS designs for their own products. And then the labor itself. The products are made by people in underdeveloped countries who have no other choice but to work for pennies on the dollar. More often than not the factories they work in are poorly maintained and have poor ventilation. Working conditions that would never pass in the United States. These companies take advantage of people in tough situations to turn around and sell poorly made clothing for dirt cheap. Clothing that then ends up in a landfill within a year or teo, because it was specifically made not to last. A product that keeps the customer constantly returning. 

I had an interesting moment the other day, one where I noticed the change this class has had on my thinking. My lovely hometown of Oklahoma City recently had a massive fire. It was an apartment complex, still under construction, but nearly finished. The fire itself could not be stopped, so they had to let the whole thing completely burn to the ground and die naturally. What caught my attention was that upon reading about the fire, my first thought was something along the lines of “Wow, what a waste of building materials.” It’s astounding, millions of dollars worth of materials just up in smoke. That thought never would have occurred to me a year ago. 

I believe that the biggest change Wicked Problems has brought to my thinking is the scope. Sustainability and “wicked” problems are a big picture issue. How did they happen in the first place? Look at the big picture. How do we fix them? Look at the big picture. Global warming and carbon emissions are not going to be solved by the option to drive an electric car. It is going to be the combination of many things. Even though these are big picture issues, my main concern actually lies on a much smaller scale. Aside from making sure our planet does not go up in smoke, the individual person should be a primary concern. There is not a person on this planet who has absolutely no stake in the well being of our planet. From the children working in sweatshops to those living in cities like Los Angeles, where the smog levels keep the sun from shining some days. That often less-discussed side to Los Angeles is something I have witnessed for myself, and I can confidently say it insured I will never move there myself. Not only are people breathing in a thick cloud of god only knows what, but that thick cloud blocks proper sunlight, and can keep people from receiving proper vitamins. And if there is one thing not to come in between, it is a person’s mental health and their sun exposure. My oldest sister attended undergraduate school in Northern Maine. If her campus was any further north it would have been in Canada. Sunlight up there was limited, especially in the winter months, and that first winter was really difficult for her. But after some research she went back the next year, prepared with a synthetic sunlight lamp. And everyday she would sit in front of it like a chamosleon and get the sunlight she needed. 

This is all a long-winded way of saying that Wicked Problems has helped me see things differently than before. It makes me angry for the earth and all the people who call it home. We all need to work together and create a solution before the damage is irreversible (a point in time that is rapidly approaching). But it is not here yet, and there is time for course correction. We just need to seize the opportunity. 

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