Environmental Wicked Problems






Environmental Wicked Problems



Institutional Affiliation














Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

Environmental ethics. 3

Protecting the environments. 5

Public participation and its effects of wicked problems. 6

Fracking wind energy. 8

Conclusion. 9

References. 10




















A society adapts to the natural environment they live in and also transform the habitat. For their survival as well as material well-being the society depends on the environmental resources and the reduction of hazards. The environmental loss has been caused by human activities and at the same time what is valued is preserved and protected. However, environmental problems are increasing in complexity, especially due to issues such as global warming. The environment is highly valued, although there are difficulties on how best to protect its natural resources.

Exhaustion of natural resources and pollution are some of the major environmental concerns that have resulted to debate from both private and public consciousness and policies. Green politics has in the recent past been involved in social movements that are concerned with the right to information and civil liberties regarding protecting cultural traditions, freedom from oppression, and health (O’Riordan & Jordan 1995). There are different principles that are used to help protect the environment. Prevention is one of the new goals for policies concerned with the environment and technology (Wynne 1992).

Wicked problems are complex since they cannot be removed or solved to be returned without having effects to the environment. There lacks no clear relationship between the causes and effect. Wicked problems are also hard to control or unmanageable.

Environmental ethics

Environmental ethics concerns the ethical relationship between human beings and the natural environment. In the recent past, there has been an increased awareness of the effects of population growth, industries, expansion of the economy, and technology on the environment (Fieser & Dowden 2016). Environmental ethics outlines human moral obligations in protecting the environment. It is crucial to have moral obligations towards the environment as life depends on the natural environment. Therefore, human activities towards the environment should be constrained. There are political efforts to better the environmental problems that should be considered by environmental ethics. Efforts made by governments and states are expected to affect the type of ethics that emerge in the future. The Kyoto Protocol is an example of a global attempt to deal with environmental challenges. However, participation from large polluters is necessary for the success of such an attempt. Setting obligations for individuals may go a long way to solving the environmental problems.

Moral reasoning is not considered a substitute for science since science does not teach how to care for the earth. Knowledge on science and economics does not provide the reason why the environment should be protected. Environmental ethics creates a scientific understanding by adding moral principles, human values, and enhanced decision making into the scientific conversation. There are different principles on which moral reasoning concerning the environment is based on. Ethical principles can be used to evaluate human actions and differentiate between the wrong and the right actions (Warner & DeCosse 2009). The principle of justice and sustainability applies in environmental justice concerning the unfair access to resources from the environment and pollution injustice facing low-income communities. Justice also includes concerns on animal welfare. Sustainability involves meeting the needs of today’s generation and putting into consideration the future generations.

Sufficiency Principle directs that all forms of life have a right to enough food for their survival. It also requires that there should be no wastage of resources that are intended to be adequate for all. To apply the sufficiency principle in an environment, the questions that should be asked is whether making a decision will result into all involved having enough resources, or if there will be any waste or excess. Environmental Ethics emphasizes that all living creatures and natural resources are morally significant. Compassion principle includes the sufficiency notion to the earth. For the survival of humans, all other creatures and elements are important. Therefore, when making decisions other creatures that will be affected by human actions should be considered, sufficiency for other creatures, especially those facing extinction should be put into consideration, and the meaning of extending compassion principle to non-human creatures.

In solidarity and participation principles solidarity advocates for considerations on how to relate with others in a community. Participation principle extends solidarity by shaping how environmental decisions are made. Decisions made by individuals and companies have resulted to many environmental problems. Governments also make decisions without seeking the consent of the public. In most cases, those affected are not aware of long term effects of such decisions on their health and environment. The principle of participation requires that all parties should be involved in making a decision. All stakeholders should be involved or represented and have access to the same information.

Protecting the environments

Decisions made by environment ministries together with their regulatory agencies have long-term effects. The decisions made should be geared towards providing quality life even for future generations. The decisions should also improve the society’s resilience against threats from the environment (Pollard, Davies, Coley & Lemon 2008). To secure the environment, a government involves other stakeholders in risk management. The stakeholders include communities, partner departments, and citizens. Modern policies affecting the environment should be based on evidence and be risk-informed so that stakeholders can make decisions that are high quality and implementable, with confidence. Good decision making concerning the environment should be more than evidence-based and risk-informed. It should involve other participants, be technically competent in analysing decisions, and have organizational maturity. Analysing risks greatly contribute to environmental issues, allowing focus to be drawn on critical areas while prioritizing actions.

Decisions on environmental management that are supported by scientific analysis fail to take into consideration the uncertainties in a given analysis. Use of simulation models is considered to give uncertain results, but is used probably due to limitations on resources that are devoted to planning and analysis. There is also the lack of evidence that the available analysis is not sufficient for decision making as well as the lack of training.

Wicked problems cannot be clearly defined as the nature and seriousness of the problem depends on individuals. Different stakeholders have different opinions considering a problem, and none of the versions of a problem can be considered to be wrong or right. The problems also have many interdependencies and their objectives or goals conflict with each other. To protect or reduce the effect of wicked problems on the environment the stakeholders should cooperate in decision making. Understanding of the problem holistically will also help in decision making where there is shared strategies, goals, and administrative guidance. System failures should be overcome by having political support, incentives to affected communities, standardization and flexible decision making.

Public participation and its effects of wicked problems

The precautionary principle allows that in cases where the effects of a new product are unknown or disputed the product should be resisted. Modern environmentalism has adopted the precautionary principle resulting in its adoption as a guide to environmental policies in the EU and the UK. However, there lacks a universal agreement on how the principle should be applied and its meaning is not well known. The importance of the principle is in its doubt concerning the relationship between the needs of humans and their health and how to incorporate future generation rights in policy-making (O’Riordan & Jordan 1995). The principle demands that action should be taken to prevent damage to the environment, even in cases of uncertainty about the cause and possible extent. The purpose of the principle is to guide regulators and administrators tasked with decision making where scientific information is considered imperfect. Decision makers are encouraged by the precautionary principle to consider possible harmful effects of any activity on the environment. Contemporary environmental politics provide a favourable context for the principle to flourish.

The precautionary principle, though not easy to define has in the recent past been used in environmental policies such as climate change (Wynne 1992). When making decisions under severe uncertainty, two strategies can be used, hedging and flexing that can be said to be ignorance (Collingridge 1993). Hedging is making a known choice so as to avoid the worst case scenario after comparing all other options. The hedging’s intention is to minimize damage if the outcome is not good. Collingridge does not support such decision making as other options that were ignored could have produced different results if other options were evaluated. Flexing, on the other hand, involves looking for the best option but is also ready to make changes to the decision if the worst outcome occurs. Decision makers should be flexible and be able to monitor decisions made so as to change or modify them if the outcome is going to be disastrous. Both hedging and flexing does not offer the best solution for decision making in cases of complexity and uncertainty. However, they help in providing some context in taking necessary precaution.

Fracking wind energy

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the development of unconventional sources of gas and oil through fracking (hydraulic fracturing). Fracking is said to help stimulate economic growth, provide more secure supply for domestic energy, and aid the transition from use of coal-based electricity generation. However, the idea is being opposed as there are claims that there will be negative effects to the public health, surrounding communities, and the environment (Boudet, H et al. 2013). Management of hydraulic fracturing activities depends on the time frame for the development, the population of the affected area and the history of previous fossil fuel extraction. It is necessary for the public to learn about the good and the bad of fracking as it is becoming a highly considered source of energy.

In Vestas UK, a green project aimed at boosting the green energy lasted only a few weeks due to protests (BBC 2009). There was strong opposition to having the wind turbines sit on the island at the Isle of Wight. The project, on the other hand, was seen as a job creation opportunity for people in the area. The wind firm did not get planning permission from the local council. A local campaign group believed that the area had a natural beauty that should not be changed. The UK has protection laws in areas deemed to have outstanding natural beauty and that was a constraint for the wind project. Local protest groups are seen to hamper development attributed to Nimbyism. Some countries in the EU use cash incentives to locals from a community so that they can change their protests. Improving infrastructure in the affected community where a project is situated helps to influence the community. There are different strategies used to combat Nimbyism but not all are successful. Legal disputes raised by the opposers in some cases have been known to hinder projects from taking place. Nimbys at times are considered to be irrational in their fight against expected projects, but their protests have a base in securing their assets against devaluation from effects of proposed projects.


The well-being of human beings and other creatures depend on the environment. Therefore, when making a decision on the human action the safety of the environment should be considered. Decision making should also involve other stakeholders with all having full access to information concerning suggested activities in an environment. The application of the precautionary principle is one way of dealing with environmental problems. The principle supports the idea of regulating or banning any activity that may be harmful until it is proven to be safe. Adaptive management is a strategy that deals with scientific uncertainties by involving evaluation, experiments and adjustment to policies and procedures. Most decisions that affect the environment are faced with opposition from affected communities. Therefore, involving the public and making them understand the nature of the proposed changes may help in avoiding protests that may hinder projects. Detailed scientific research needs to be conducted to avoid basing decisions on uncertainties. Neighbourhood opposition on some projects is sometimes important since there are projects that can adversely affect an environment. Such protests can result in more research to help find out the effects of proposed projects.








BBC 2009, Green energy hit by ‘faceless Nimbys’, BBC News, viewed 12 January 2016, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8207802.stm&gt;

Boudet, H et al. 2013, “Fracking” controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public, Perceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.10.017i

Fieser, J, & Dowden, B 2016, Environmental Ethics, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Viewed 12 January 2016, < http://www.iep.utm.edu/envi-eth/&gt;

O’Riordan, T & Jordan, A 1995, The Precautionary Principle in Contemporary Environmental Politics, Environmental Values, vol. 4, pp.91-212.

Pollard, S.J.T, Davies, G.J, Coley, F & Lemon, M 2008, Better Environmental Decision Making – Recent Progress and Future Trends, Science of the Total Environment, vol.400, no.1, pp. 20-31.

Warner, K. D & DeCosse, D 2009, Thinking Ethically About the Environment, Santa Clara University, Viewed 12 January 2016, <http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/environmental_ethics/short-course.html&gt;

Wynne, B 1992, Uncertainty and Environmental Learning: Reconceiving Science and Policy in the Preventative Paradigm, Global Environmental Change, vol.2 no.2, pp. 111-127.



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