Wicked Problems & Adaptive Management

Written by Jackie Jaffe

The call to act on environmental issues has never been more pressing than in 2020. However, the ability to act on these issues has never been more complicated than it is today. Issues like climate change, overfishing, and pollution all fall under the category of wicked problems. These dilemmas are complex, with no clear-cut solutions that will wholly eradicate the problem or leave everyone content. This complexity can largely be attributed to varying stakeholder values. For example, with overfishing, many groups have a stake in what is happening and how this problem is being handled. There are the fishermen, whose jobs and ability to support themselves depend often on exploiting populations. Conversely, there are the activist groups and organizations like Regional Fishery Management Councils that aim for fish populations to become more sustainable. So, how do we effectively make compromises in food law to address the desires of various stakeholders? One approach to tackle these wicked problems is through adaptive management. This process involves carefully considering the different stakeholder values, evaluating potential approaches to a problem and what their consequences would be, carrying out these actions in an experimental setting, and then reevaluating previous strategies.

While this is a promising method to address critical issues in food law, it can be expensive to carry out experiments. Additionally, it is difficult to change strategies once an approach has already been implemented into policy. Despite these obstacles, it is critical that policy makers, lawyers, and stakeholders communicate and find common ground in order to prioritize protecting the world’s depleting resources.

If you’re interested, read more here and here.

Jackie Jaffe is FLS’s undergraduate representative and a sophomore at Duke’s Trinity School of Arts and Sciences. She is a pre-law student who hopes to study environmental and animal law in the future.  At FLS, she works to connect law students and undergraduates who are interested in food-related issues.

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Duke Food Law Society (“FLS”) is a student-led organization, motivated by a shared desire to improve the food system. It serves as a hub to exchange ideas, knowledge, and practical skills relevant to the legal issues surrounding food. FLS supports a network of students, professionals and food-lovers who support a healthier, more equitable food system—both in the Durham community and nationally. Check back soon for blog posts, event updates and more.

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