Wicked problems.. not the Chris Isaak parody

One thing I did learn during my study, is that most environmental problems are in fact wicked. Not like 90’s kid slang wicked or Wicked Witch of the West. This wicked refers to an elusive, if not futile solution to a problem. Many economic, political and environmental problems are considered “wicked”, attempts to solve one part of the equation can lead to more problems elsewhere. These problem often have multiple stakeholders with conflicting ideas and values.

Here are a few examples that torment me:

  • The total carbon footprint and life-cycle of reusable items (nappies, bags, cups etc.) in some circumstances outweigh the issues revolving waste.
  • Avoiding palm oil, just to move the deforestation problem somewhere else in the world (e.g is canola or soy or corn any more sustainable or ethical)? And this doesn’t even consider the people involved! Think about the livelihood of locals in developing nations.
  • Buying local produce that isn’t organic or organic that has been shipped from overseas. What’s better organic or local?
  • Drinking soy or almond milk over cows milk. All come with their own set of ethical and environmental issues.
  • Buying leather products (cows = methane and ethical issues) that last a long time and are usually repairable or synthetics (fossil fuel derived) that generally wear a lot quicker and are not usually repairable… I’m thinking shoes for this point but can work for many other leather items like furniture and clothing.
  • Buying 100% recycled bog roll that’s shipped from China or purchasing non-recycled “forest friendly” that is locally made.
This really doesn’t have much to do with wicked problems other than how freaking beautiful is nature… and filters… but more importantly nature. Grampians National Park 2016.

These are just a few examples that come to mind. I’m sure there’ll be many more I will encounter on this journey and beyond.

Sometimes the “right” answer is not clear and it can come down to a matter of personal preference. In making many of my environmental decisions I often lean towards low waste options as it has always been an interest to me and I felt I had to start somewhere, not sitting in limbo land trying to decide if it is ok to wear leather but actually doing nothing about the situation. Others may make a decision based on lowest carbon emissions or with animal welfare or health in mind.

Not all the choices I make will resolve all environmental problems but they will be a start in the right direction and a platform for learning and further improvement. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by wicked problems, trying to decide best practice, just to end up saying screw it, im going to sit here watching Netflix and eating ice cream instead (which I have said and done in the past). Wicked problems have you questioning your ability and importance; “what does it matter what I do, it’s not going to solve it anyway”.

In these instances I think its important to remember Gandhi’s words;

Whatever you do in life it will be insignificant but it is very important you do it.

I encourage you to do your homework and work with the solutions that sit best with your values. That’s what this year is about for me, ensuring I’ve put my research in and choosing a path that suits best. It may mean taking many small steps to reaching an end goal, or maybe never reaching the goal, just many steps… shit, I’d better charge my fitness tracker!

Hope this post inspires you to start small and dream big,

Minimal Sam


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