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How to Solve a Wicked Problem: An Introduction to Environment, Society and Sustainability

What might a new normal—one that respects the Earth and all of its inhabitants—look like? How can we use our knowledge of the world and its physical and social complexities to design better systems and communities? Where should change begin? These are just of the few questions that I grappled with in working towards writing a undergraduate textbook on sustainability. Over the summer, I worked in coordination with Professors of Geography Paul Sutton and Helen Hazen as a co-author in writing a textbook titled An Introduction to Environment, Society and Sustainability that will be used for the ‘Introduction to Sustainability’ course offered in the department of Geography and the Environment. This involved conducting research to write two individual chapters, organizing citations, creating and/or obtaining appropriate figures, building a glossary, and developing discussion questions and learning outcomes for each chapter.

This book takes a new approach to compelling contemporary questions regarding the inter-related issues of population, social justice, and environmental sustainability using the framework of what are known as “wicked problems.” The idea of a “wicked problem” means that environmental issues are so complex and involve so many stakeholders that they require an understanding of systems at a broad variety of scales if they are to be addressed. For example, instead of focusing on simple solutions such as recycling, composting and renewable energy, this book will look to push towards broader economic, political, and social systemic change. Sustainability requires a complex and interdisciplinary approach, and this book aims to highlight the importance of systems thinking to develop solutions for the future. The project culminated in a full draft of the textbook including 13 chapters of 7,000-8,000 words per chapter (about 100,000 words total) which has an expected publication date later this year.