Global challenges are abounding, and working in the world of sustainability, health, and wellness has brought many wicked problems to light.
We can describe some of the most challenging social issues we face today as wicked problems. With those problems, we have to re-frame our notion of success. Although they will never get entirely solved, success with wicked problems is about impacting or improving outcomes and mitigating risks.
I am Marla, the Green Home Coach! I am excited to be back in the studio today with my co-host, Tony Pratte, who is joining me to talk about the wicked problem of changing weather.
Stay tuned for more!
There has been some crazy weather in St. Louis for the last couple of months! It has been raining a lot, and the driving downpours have caused many problems for land developers.
Lots of rain
Over the last decade or so, we have seen an increase in rainfall in the Oklahoma area. There has been unusual rainfall between March and November- and sometimes even December!
Changing weather patterns
Weather patterns appear to be changing everywhere. Even though some of it could be cycles, the changing weather over the last few years has been partially due to the increasing drought in the western part of the United States.
What is rain?
When the moisture in the air reacts with water in the ground, it rains. Currently, the ground out west lacks water, so rain is not getting triggered in that area. The moisture that should be causing rain in the west (in California, Arizona, and Nevada) is moving eastwards.
Extreme weather patterns
Lately, the extreme global weather patterns have become more extreme!
You cannot compare Oklahoma with St. Louis
You cannot compare Oklahoma with St. Louis because St. Louis is a meteorological anomaly. Most cities have two weather patterns. They are either affected by the Arctic or the Gulf of Mexico. St. Louis gets affected by both, so it has three weather patterns. For weather forecasting, two mathematical equations get combined. In St. Louis, there is a third equation that throws everything off.
A river effect
St. Louis is at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the second-largest freshwater flow in North America. So the state is surrounded by water. That causes a river effect, much like the lake effect at the Great Lakes, which amplifies many weather patterns. That matters because it helps us gauge the changes we see in the weather patterns.
Things that do not usually occur in certain parts of the country are happening a lot more, and strong weather patterns have been reported in the news. Scientific data shows that the weather is changing, and people are starting to accept it.
Many large cities are in the desert. Air conditioning makes the heat bearable, but where does the water come from? A limited amount of fresh water exists on the planet that constantly gets recycled through the water cycle. A billion people have problems accessing clean water every day. Yet we keep building big cities in areas with no water (like Las Vegas), and more and more people keep moving to those locations.
The water pumped to the desert cities gets subsidized, so people aren’t aware of the real cost. If it was not subsidized, fewer people and businesses might move to those cities. That could relieve some of the strain on the natural resources of those locations and help stabilize the weather patterns.
In the west and in California Central Valley, where a lot of food is grown, water prices are soaring. As the drought in that area worsens, people are buying up water rights. That has created a challenge for small farmers who are unable to compete with the huge conglomerates that own the water rights.
Is water an inalienable right?
The corporations that own the big farms can use their resources, create hedging strategies, and buy options on commodities like water. So people are talking about whether water is an inalienable right, and if it should be commoditized and purchased.
A perpetual cycle
Changing weather affects water patterns, and water patterns affect the weather. It is a perpetual cycle, so it is hard to know where to start if we want to change things.
The natural patterns that exist will continue. If there is mismanagement, however, things get thrown out of whack, and problems tend to get amplified.
A wicked problem
The water issue is a wicked problem because it requires many different solutions. If we want to continue as a society, we need to figure out how to deal with the effects of the weather changes.
Change is here, and it is unavoidable. No matter what, we will have to adapt, mitigate, and suffer.
The real cost of water
Mitigating and adapting will not solve this problem. If people were charged the actual cost of water in desert cities rather than subsidizing, it could prevent some future suffering.
We have to start thinking differently about water and the changing weather patterns. Some people recognize that, so they use water wisely and consider ways to conserve it when building.
Figuring out how to obtain water
Although the agricultural community has probably adapted better than most by coming up with more efficient irrigation systems and using technology tools, we still have to figure out how to capture water and recharge the aquifers. Because thousands of acres of farmland and millions of people are affected by the weather changes.
The water from the heavy rains in Oklahoma City over the past weeks has been running through the storm-water systems and into the Gulf of Mexico. That water gets wasted because it mixes with salt water. It would be a much better idea to figure out a way to keep that water fresh and re-introduce it to the water cycle.
Using strategies to overcome the feast or famine effect
We can all do something for ourselves to overcome the feast or famine effect resulting from changing weather patterns. Small steps add up.
Gutters in Oklahoma
Gutters are not automatically fitted on houses in Oklahoma City because there is usually not enough rain to make them worthwhile. With the climate becoming wetter, more people are putting gutters onto their houses and installing rain barrels and rain gardens to capture the water.
No simple answers
There is no simple answer to the wicked problem of obtaining enough water for everyone with changing weather patterns. We need to have open and realistic discussions about what is changing weather and the water patterns. It does not matter who caused the problem. What does matter is that we have to fix it.
Some simple tips for becoming part of the solution:
- Use rain barrels (if they are legal in your state)
- Install a rain garden
- Buy local produce
- Use native plants for landscaping
- Stand up and speak out about the need for change
Have a great green day!
Links and resources:
What Makes a Green Home Green Audio Program:
Study.com video: wicked problems definitions
EPA.gov climate indicators
Scienceline on how weather affects the way we live