Why haven’t we solved the climate change problem?

We’ve known about climate change for decades and some great minds have worked on tackling the problem, cumulatively a lot of hard work has been done, so why are we still facing the same problem?

Grint (2008), suggests that we have been looking at the problem in the wrong way, by trying to solve it like a puzzle with a single-line solution. But since climate change is a much more complex problem, traditional linear problem-solving techniques are inadequate.

To have any chance of success, we must take into account a wealth of variables including socioeconomic factors and complicated chemistry, but due to the hugeness of the problem, any solution can have impacts in unexpected ways.

Levin et al. (2012) described climate change as a ‘super wicked problem’, categorised as having the following ‘wicked problem’ characteristics:

  1. No unique “correct” view of the problem;
  2. Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
  3. Most problems are connected to other problems;
  4. Data are often uncertain or missing;
  5. Multiple value conflicts;
  6. ideological and cultural constraints;
  7. Political constraints;
  8. Economic constraints;
  9. Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
  10. Numerous possible intervention points;
  11. Consequences difficult to imagine;
  12. Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
  13. Great resistance to change; and,
  14. Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.

(as described by Horn (2007))

Along with the following additional characteristics:

  1. Time is running out.
  2. No central authority.
  3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
  4. Policies discount the future irrationally.

It is a problem faced by everyone as individuals and as groups (such as businesses and governments and we are really only beginning the journey of tackling it. However, time is far from plentiful and the effects have already been devastating.





Grint (2008): Grint, K. Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions: the Role of Leadership. In: Clinical Leader, Volume I Number II, 2008

Levin (2009): Levin, K.; Cashore, B.; Bernstein, S.; Auld, G. “Playing it forward: Path dependency, progressive incrementalism, and the “Super Wicked” problem of global climate change”, 2009

Horn (2007): Horn, Robert E., and Robert P. Weber; “New Tools For Resolving Wicked Problems: Mess Mapping and Resolution Mapping Processes”, Strategy Kinetics L.L.C., 2007

Written by TreeThinker

Passionate about the Earth and those who inhabit it. An engineer (BEng (Hons), MSEE) from Oxfordshire, UK, specialising in designing for a sustainable future. A member of the Society of Environmental Engineers and a keen environmental advocate who volunteers for several grass roots sustainability groups. I work full time as a project manager for a renewable energy company based in Oxford and also run ‘TreeThinker’ (www.treethinker.org); converting previous pasture land into a rich permaculture farm growing produce for sale locally. I deliver workshops on sustainable living, including building renewable energy technologies, as well as workshops for schools discussing 'Energy as a resource' amongst other topics. I am qualified in ‘Information, advice and guidance’ (level 4) and experienced at teaching practical skills. I'm also a keen cyclist and have a love of wordplay - writing a blog on etymology (www.etymologyotd.com).

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