Thinking Generations Ahead

Before starting this class, I had somewhat of an idea of what sustainability was, but I was also prepared for my knowledge on the subject to change pretty quickly once the class started. I was right. While I did know that sustainability involved sustaining what we have, I was informed of how it also means to maintain what we have without hurting the environment, as well as involving our environment, economic systems, and society. Along with sustainability, I was also introduced to a new term that I did not understand before this class, which is wicked problems. While I did understand the concept of a wicked problem, I was unaware of the exact definition and the multiple characteristics involved with one. Unlike a tame problem, a wicked problem is one that is seemingly “unsolvable,” because finding a solution almost seems impossible. It is one that is urgent, seems to have no end point, and usually the effects of the problem cannot be undone. I am so excited to be apart of this class because issues such as climate change and global warming, which classify as a wicked problem,  have always been so interesting to me.

To make sense of a wicked problem, I decided to focus on a problem that I see in the news frequently, which is climate change. Climate change is a topic that almost no one has a solution for, the problem is hard to pinpoint and finding a way to solve it seems impossible. On top of that, it is an urgent problem that needs to be solved, but many believe that it’s already too late to fix the issue. This is a prime example of the characteristics that make a problem a wicked one. Just like Easter Island, we as a society are dependent on our environment and its resources. We are nothing without our natural resources, yet our demand for them is high and we are selfish with our usage of them. If we cannot find a solution to this wicked problem, all of Earth could one day follow in the footsteps of Easter Island.

Another large problem that we are faced with is ways to become more sustainable in our everyday lives. Growing up, this was never taught to me in elementary school or never seemed like it was a problem. However, today I am reminded almost everyday about how we as a society need to become less wasteful. Why have we not been told this our entire lives? Just like Paul Gilding brought up in his talk, we have been warned of this for over fifty years, and we have the science to prove it, so why have we not been taking action? Our Earth is full, and most of our approaches to this problem is unsustainable and most of our plans to fix it are not possible. This is where my self-narrative needs to shift. Many have the mindset of “ if others around me aren’t taking any steps to help out why would mine make any difference?” This is the opposite of what everyone, including me should be thinking. Every bit we recycle or reuse is helping in some way. For example, many have begun to thrift for clothes, which means that products have a second or third life. This is also something that Andrew Dent talked about in his TedTalk. We need to use only what we need and change the way we think, and thrifting is just one step in the right direction. However, some people have been living sustainable for generations, like the Native Americans. I was so inspired to learn about how they have learned how to sustain themselves and truly embody the idea. One point that I believe was SO important was that they “think generations ahead.” After hearing this, it really made me think of my own carbon footprint that I alone will leave on Earth. Everyday I hope I can strive to become a more sustainable, eco-friendly person so that I can leave the planet for generations and generations behind me to live on. Each one of us should do the smallest steps, like not using a straw or picking up trash when we see it outside. However, I hope that throughout the remainder of this course I will be able to go more in depth of these wicked problems that we are faced with and hopefully gain insight on how we as a society can reverse the effects. While I only take small steps to solve the problem, I hope we as a class can learn new and inventive ways to get us and others motivated to help solve these wicked problems that matter the most.

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Red Flags

For nearly two decades, I was oblivious to the concept of sustainability. It was an unfamiliar and foreign word, and therefore, I felt it didn’t affect me. I thought the word simply referred to recycling or other “green” activities. It wasn’t until arriving at Oklahoma State University that I really gave the idea any attention. In a broad sense, sustainability is finding processes that allow one to maintain a certain lifestyle or way of doing something. Specifically, in the industry of Design, Housing, and Merchandising, we can think of sustainability as a means to battle the existence of what we know as “wicked problems”. These issues are essentially solution-less, and have a negative impact on large amounts of people. They typically have six distinct attributes: 1) vague problem definitions, 2) variable solutions, 3) solutions have no endpoint, 4) solutions pose irreversible effects, 5) solutions require unique approaches, 6) urgency. These characteristics are what causes wicked problems to stand out among other issues. Wicked problems can include widespread hunger, sweatshops, or pollution.
In the 1700’s, when Europeans stumbled upon what became known as “Easter Island”, it was practically uncivilized and barren. Oddly enough, and in stark contrast to the squalor of the island, they found hundreds of immense stone statues had been erected on the island. It is shocking to think that a civilization that was once so technologically inclined to construct these statues was eventually demolished due to a lack of resources. It poses an interesting concept that remains relevant to this day: humanity is and has been, and likely always will be, dependent on their natural, earthly surroundings. When that environment struggled to sustain the lives of the original Easter Islanders, the people group stopped succeeding. In retrospect, this historic warning should be a red flag to us. Unfortunately, for generations people on the earth, most obviously those in developed countries, have taken advantage of their resources, and lacked any consciousness to the consequences of our decisions. Wastefulness and gluttony have become commonplace, and the truths of the disposal of our waste is the last thing on our minds. Convenience, ease, and price are our priorities. This is no simple task to reverse this mindset, to say the least. For decades, even centuries, the vast majority of the earth’s populations has lived without concerns or guilt, and still today, many are unaware of the waste and pollution their existence can cause. The paradigm will never have a chance to change if each person opts not to make a personal, conscious decision to change their self-narrative, and ultimately alter the way in which they utilize their resources. Each person has what is known as a “carbon footprint”. This term is used to describe the damage a single individual can inflict on the environment, simply by existing. Until people are enlightened about their impact, it’s hard to imagine anything changing.
As a Design, Housing, and Merchandising Student, I am particularly interested in researching the effects of wicked problems in regard to the practices of apparel production. I would like to explore the concept of sweatshops, and why is it so difficult to find a solution to the evils involved. With so many American companies offshoring their production, it is easy for Americans to overlook the idea that somewhere, our clothes are being made by underpaid, neglected, and possibly abused individuals who have little else to turn to, except a miserable job that allows them to live another day and hopefully clothe and feed themselves and their children.

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Something Wicked Comes This Way

One person can start a revolution. One person can knock down the first of thousands of dominos. All it takes is for one person to introduce a new idea or a new concept, and people will follow. Paradigms, or the collective mindset of society, can be changed by movements started by one person. It is possible! Think about straws; as a society, we never used to put any thought into using straws and where they end up. But one person, Milo Cress, started a campaign in 2011 to ban plastic straws. Milo’s campaign got so far, that thousands of people have switched to using metal straws instead of plastic ones. Even Washington, D.C. banned the use of plastic straws in restaurants. Milo was nine years old when he started his campaign. Nine! If a nine-year-old can make that big of a difference, anyone can.

            Straws are small objects that make a huge difference; but what about whole industries? What about automotive industries? Andrew Dent, during his TED Talk, stated that the automotive industry recycles 95% of their cars. When you think about how large that number really is, you can see how big of a difference they are making. Of course, they don’t recycle 100% of every car, instead that percentage is closer to 75. Still, that is a great deal of waste that they are preventing from going to landfills.

            We have already created ourselves a wicked problem, if not many. These complex and interconnected problems have no end in sight, and if we don’t act quickly, there will be permanent harm not only to nature, but to the human race as well. These urgent problems, such as pollution and energy consumption, have vague definitions to people all across the world. Geographical features, government systems, and cultures all play a part in the definitions of these issues; the same goes for solutions. Not everyone is going to agree when the problem has been solved, we will have to settle for good enough or not good enough. And all of these solutions will have to be unique to everyone; because of geographical or governmental or cultural boundaries, solutions will have to be adapted to meet different needs. However, we must not suffer from “paralysis by analysis,” even though solutions will have irreversible effects on our economy and environment, we must act quickly and urgently to alleviate these wicked problems.

            If we do not act urgently, we will end up like the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island. Having limited resources, restricted diets, and nowhere to escape to, are some of the things we have in common with the people of Easter Island. These people became so competitive with each other, much like how we are today, that they ended up using all of their resources and cutting down all of their trees. And for what? They only dug themselves a hole that they could not get out of. They ran out of food and had to resort to cannibalism. And they could not leave the island because they had no trees to make rafts. Today, all countries are going head-to-head in trying to have the largest economy, the highest quality of life possible. If we continue, just like Paul Gilding stated in his TED talk, we are going to have to fight for civilization. But of course, we can do it, we’ll get out of the problem, but “it takes a good crisis to get us going.” We may think that we can escape to Mars and start over, but we need to be realistic. By the time we actually find out a way to leave, most of the people that are currently living, will probably be long gone. Instead of trying to leave, we need to try and solve.

            Everyone has a different perspective on sustainability. Me? I used to think that sustainability was just a fancy word for recycling. After reading and watching people talk about what they think, my definition has evolved. Now, I view sustainability as thinking generations ahead of my decisions and how they will come back to bite me in the butt. Hopefully, my decisions will give a good pat on the back in a few decades, but the key is to think before you act. Native Americans have somewhat of the same view as I do. They ask themselves how they can maintain their current lifestyle without depleting that which sustains the future. By thinking generations ahead and what their actions will have on the future, they embody the idea of intergenerational responsibility. I looked at my own carbon footprint, and I was pleasantly surprised. At 24 tons of carbon dioxide per year, I am 50% better than average. Of course, this probably is not exactly right since I don’t know how much the water or electricity bill is. I simply guessed by the fact that I hardly ever have the lights on, and I take pretty quick showers. I am hoping to better my footprint by reducing the amount of goods that I purchase. If I cut down on the online shopping that I do, then that could possibly create a chain effect and reduce my footprint.

            Tame problems are nowhere near the severity of wicked problems. While wicked problems are complex, non-linear, and withstand traditional problem solving means, tame problems are linear, sequential, and have a common enemy. Their solutions are simpler to find, such as medical vaccines. Wicked problems require many people to be on board, and while this is hard to accomplish, we can each do our part. The wicked problem that I am looking to research, is energy consumption in buildings. With rising temperatures, and increasing standards of living, energy consumption is soaring through the roof. The increasing levels of consumption is leading to the depletion of the ozone layer, and major changes in climate change and global warming. 

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Blog 1

Before the beginning of Wicked Problems, I thought that I had a pretty strong grasp on the concept of environmentalism and sustainability as a whole. As an environmentally-conscious person, I have always had an awareness of the declining state of the Earth and how important it is for us to make a change now, before it’s too late. However, I have already gained a more refined understanding of sustainability, especially in the context of the wicked problems of our world. Before, I saw sustainability as an essentially interchangeable term for reducing, reusing, and recycling the things available to us. While this is also true, I have learned that it is also about making the most of what is left on earth as our resources continue to dwindle. This ties into wicked problems because, although these worldly issues are near-impossible to solve, the work towards solution can be drawn from sustainable practices. However, it is extremely difficult to reach a resolution due to social complexities preventing a simple solution. Because people have countless different ideas, opinions, cultures, and other backgrounds, it is very difficult to reach an agreement.

The six characteristics that define wicked problems include vague problem definitions, variable solutions, solutions have no endpoint, solutions pose irreversible effects, solutions require unique approaches, and urgency. Vague problem definitions and variable solutions refers to the difficulty in pinpointing an issue because it is defined differently by stakeholders. This causes problems in universal agreement over a solution. Solutions do not have a set endpoint because other problems are created along the way to finding a resolution, therefore solutions must adapt. Solutions posing irreversible effect refers to the effectiveness of a solution cannot be verified prior to implementation, which relies on trial and error testing. Urgency is due to the fact that if we do not act now, further damage will be caused. Finally, because each situation is distinct and based on individual circumstances, the same solution will not be equally effective for everyone.

There are various perspectives from which to view sustainability. For instance, in his TED talk, Andrew Dent discusses the value of thrift and how useful this tool and mindset can be in the current state of the world. This idea includes things such as recycling car parts to make new cars, using demolition waste to create new buildings, and more. Essentially, if we continue to implement this concept of giving products a second life, we will be able to slow the damage being done to the planet. Similarly, Native Americans also have a unique take on sustainability. Many believe that, because everything in nature is connected, a single action has implications on all other things. This means that we must be deeply aware of each and every one of our actions in an effort to prevent as much damage as possible.

In an alarming yet eye-opening reading, I learned that many unfortunate parallels can be drawn between Easter Island and our current society and environment. The whole of their existence was entirely dependent on their limited resources, although they were not able to create a system that effectively balanced their lifestyle with the environment. This is highly relevant to our society today in the way that we so carelessly deplete our resources on account of our lifestyles without minding the inevitable repercussions. However, if we start making changes to our daily lives by adding sustainable practices, our outcome will be much more successful than that of Easter Island.

In light of the topic of change, it is important to keep in mind the value to making self-narrative shifts on an individual basis. Far too many people believe that they cannot personally change the state of the world, however with every purchase, use of a resource, or wasteful habit, that one person is shifting the landscape of the environment. If that concept is carried out by the vast majority of people, then that is where large-scale change can be seen, whether positive or negative. On the other hand, paradigm shifts stem from a collective mentality derived from values, beliefs, assumptions, and more. This mindset is the lens through which we view the world, allowing us to set goals, develop structures, parameters, and rules, build barriers, and influence patterns of practice. These are the large-scale waves of change that can ensue if people put their differences aside and consciously try to find a common solution. An example of a self-narrative can be observed through my personal carbon footprint. After calculating my various activities, household information, and environmental impacts, I was provided with very eye-opening information about how my habits truly affect the Earth. This inspired me to be even more attentive to the impact that I am making, as I begin to make small changes in my daily life.

Finally, after researching the various wicked problems in our society today, I have chosen to focus on the topic of labor conditions in the manufacturing industry. There are entirely too many people, often in developing countries, who are being forced to work under the most hazardous conditions and exploitation simply so they can make a living. I plan to further research specific countries, companies, and safety concerns involved with working conditions and fast fashion.

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Practice Mindfulness

Paper or plastic? Which one would you choose? In the past, if given the ultimatum, I would choose paper. Of course, we all think that this would be a better option according to the environment; however, after hearing Leyla speak about this on her TED talk, neither of these are good options. Instead, we should avoid them altogether by using reusable shopping bags. I have only just recently began using these. This ideology also coincides with being mindful.

What does being mindful mean to you? Prior to a reading titled “Mindfulness and Sustainability”, I had only understood being mindful as being aware. On the other hand, mindfulness utilizes positive techniques that are not materialistic to refocus an individual on their own needs and well-being. It also “increases compassion and empathy for others, which in turn, might improve social relations”. I think that when we teach ourselves mindfulness through the act of meditation that we are decluttering our minds. Our culture has become so reliant on material goods to make us happy that we are cluttering not only our physical realm but also our mental realm. Then, we try to keep ourselves happy by buying more stuff. It is a vicious cycle and all we need to do is begin getting rid of stuff and being sustainable by utilizing what we do have for multiple purposes or upcycling. I really like what Marc Cohen says about consumption. He states that prior to consuming something (this could also be used prior to buying something as well) ask the following questions: what is in it, who made it, where is it from, how did it get here, who benefits from the sale, what use is it-is it worth it, what is its lifecycle and embodied energy, and finally, what is its environmental and social impact? By asking yourself these questions, you are practicing mindfulness by being aware of the product and if it is necessary. This technique may help to eliminate excessive or impulse buying as well. Every time you spend money, you’re voting for the world you want to lead into. Meditate on that for a moment.

Like I had mentioned earlier, mindfulness increases compassion and empathy for others. I do not know how you feel about giving and helping others but for me, I absolutely love giving. If I have it to give, I will give it away. I say this because it has been questioned as to whether poverty is responsible for global environmental degradation. What do you think? While I think it is a contributing factor, I do not believe it is the sole factor or even the largest factor. This is where unity needs to form amongst all nations. Peoples of all nations can assist the poverty to be able to acquire appropriate resources and assets. When a group of people are poverty stricken, they rely on the environment for their resources. For example, food. They will have to grow their own food. Where do the scraps of food that they do not consume go? Back into the earth, right? This is not harmful at all. If this same group of people that is living in poverty do not have money, how are they to contribute to the over consumption that the rest of the world practices? I like the way that John Ambler thinks on this issue in that we need to look at the area that the poor reside and implement policies in their favor. He also believes that the non-poor, commercial companies, and state agencies cause the majority of the environmental damage through their land clearing, agro-chemical use, water appropriation and pollution (Ambler, P 144). These same issues are what is wrong with industries like construction, interior design, and merchandising.

In the interior design industry, structures are not being designed to last long-term. We see so often designs that are a particular style and more often than not that design is the current trend. When interiors are being designed, there needs to be multi-functionality in everything that is going to be placed inside so that furniture and rooms may serve more than one purpose. This would cut down on future waste. Interiors that do not last result in demolition. Demolition results in the structures being hauled off to the landfills. A part of why interiors do not last is because of the types of materials used. For example, particle board is now being used to build cabinetry and furniture. This type of wood is put together using formaldehyde which is a carcinogen. If any type of moisture gets into it, it begins to deteriorate; releasing these chemicals into the environment to be inhaled by humans. Examples like this are why mindfulness is an important practice for everyone to learn and begin.

I look forward to your feedback.

Thank you,

Amber Fisher

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blog post #3

Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. I believe that one must be mindful about their surrounding environment so that they can become more sustainable in their daily lives. If the world was more mindful, then the environment and the climate would be much better. Sustainability and mindfulness go hand-in-hand.

The TED Talks were very eye opening and interesting. Both speakers gave great points that I believe everyone should take into account. The poverty reading was also very interesting. If poverty was focused on, more people would become sustainable. People who live in poverty are not necessarily in good environments where they can be sustainable. If society as a whole tries to start with the small things in poverty, they can create a big impact.

The fashion industry should also start looking at more sustainable opportunities with their products and practices. There is so much waste and pollution from the fashion industry and that should be looked further in to. If one industry can become more sustainable, then others will follow.

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