Today, only a very small amount of water on Earth is potable. Almost three-fourths of the fresh water available on our planet gets used up in agriculture. In “101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian,” Pamela Rice writes, “Because of increasing meat consumption, global water demand is forecast to go up by 40 percent by 2030. It is important to realize that half of all the world’s cultivated grain is fed to livestock. So, when people hear the word ‘agriculture,’ they largely need to think animal agriculture. Production inputs for a single hamburger amount to 634 gallons of water, 25 times that needed for the equivalent in wheat” (Rice 2). When viewing these facts all together, it is apparent that we have a problem on our hands. However, it isn’t as simple as stating a few disadvantages to the way agriculture production system is run today, and then moving on to trying to find alternative strategies to the current method that would serve as potential solutions to the problem at hand. Due to the largely invisible status of this issue in mainstream media, many people are not fully aware of the problem.
In “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber state, “one of the most intractable problems is that of defining problems (of knowing what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition) and of locating problems (finding where in the complex casual networks the trouble really lies)” (159). Defining a ‘wicked’ problem, such as intensive agriculture, is not an easy task. It does not work in the same manner as mathematical problem solving in which a problem is given and a solution is found through carrying out the steps necessary to gain a definitive solution. In order to deal with wicked problems, we must realize how interrelated all of these problems are. For example, not only does industrial agriculture (including both crop and livestock production) expend the bulk of potable water on the earth, but it also engenders land degradation and climate change. Furthermore, there are different levels of a wicked problem. Land degradation and climate change are higher, and therefore, more general problems. A few problems that fit within these two broader problems include forests turning into eroded wasteland, arable land turning into desert, and greenhouse gases that are emitted during livestock production, which have even smaller, more concentrated problems within them as well. This could keep going on and on in many different directions up to the most minute details.
Additionally, it is essential to have “knowledge of all conceivable solutions” so as to be able to effectively “anticipate all questions” (160). Along with this, we also must take into account the rarity of the majority of people agreeing on the image of a problem and coming up with a concrete model of planning towards a targeted resolution. Rittel and Weber point out, “diverse values are held by different groups of individuals—that what satisfies one may be abhorrent to another, that what comprises problem-solution for one is problem-generation for another. Under such circumstances, and in the absence of an overriding social theory or an overriding social ethic, there is no gainsaying which group is right and which should have its ends served” (169). Our pluralistic society makes way for a constant stream of opposing views to butt heads with each other. There is no easy way to solve a wicked problem whether it be social and/or environmental.