Module 14: Climate Change As A Wicked Problem

Climate change is what is commonly referred to as a “wicked problem.” Indeed, it has been termed the "ultimate" wicked problem. Climate change is not characterized by any of the attributes that can make problems easier to solve, including environmental problems ranging from the ozone hole to air pollution. So what does this mean?

Master Modifiable Slides July 11 28


Climate change has been termed the "ultimate" wicked problem. Climate change is not characterized by any of the attributes that can make problems easier to solve, including environmental problems ranging from the ozone hole to air pollution.

Horst Rittel, a professor of the science of design, and Melvin Webber, who taught city planning, first coined the term “wicked problems” in their 1973 paper “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” They characterized wicked problems as problems where:

  • There are no true or false answers
  • Solutions can’t be truly tested
  • There are no clear solution sets
  • Each problem is unique
  • Each problem is a symptom of another problem

One of the implications of dealing with wicked problems is the need to really understand what is going on, before focusing on finding “the solution.”


Through Your Climate Change PhD you’ll be introduced to the variables making climate change such a wicked problem, and the implications of climate change being a wicked problem when it comes to successfully tackling climate change.

Module Content

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