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Sustainability, Energy, and the Global Voluntary Sector

As citizens of the developed world, we carry an outsize burden in shaping the future of global energy sustainability. Without doubt, conserving energy and reducing pollution are the two greatest challenges facing the global community in the 21st century. The Global CCS Institute sums up the nature of the problem very succinctly.

No other task in the history of diplomacy comes close to that of uniting friendly and hostile nations alike under the banner of our shared environmental fate.

We must be wary of alienating our partners, however, who are well aware of our own ongoing legacy of polluting behavior. It is hard to preach the ways of sustainability to countries who have viewed from afar our largesse with fossil fuels over the years. Indeed, in nations facing public health and economic crises, short-term needs are still likely to trump any commitments or promises to abide by sustainability principles.

CO2 Emissions By Country

A commitment to sharing expertise

After the global recession that commenced in 2007, governments have been forced to come to terms with harsh realities regarding their growing debt piles. Leading diplomatic powers like Britain have grappled with their economic realities by embarking on a program of expansive spending cuts.

In this cost-cutting carnage many critics have brought pressure to bear on the United Kingdom's 14bn (GBP) foreign aid budget. A great deal of this money is earmarked for nations in Africa and Asia.

It is our opinion that developed powers the world over should resist the urge to shave spending off easy targets like foreign aid. Not only does this money help to forge positive working relationships between governments, it fosters private sector trade links that can be leveraged into the sharing of best-practice sustainability policies.

Of critical importance is the ongoing sharing of sustainability expertise, and skilled foreign aid workers provide a vital link in this process. These efforts extend beyond profit-making industries and into the voluntary sector. Solar technicians and green energy experts are in particularly high demand.

Setting an example

Foreign aid workers and volunteers can put their skills to use in 3 key areas: fostering relationships with emerging countries, sharing expertise in key industries, and setting a framework from which nations can build and grow positively.

This post by Stephen Knight captures many of the mutual benefits of taking part in this kind of work. Skilled workers and volunteers get to embark on an enormously rewarding project while also contributing to what must be a united global push toward environmental sustainability.

Setting an example requires both generosity and an understanding of the complexities of economic growth. Nations grappling with famine, disease and rampant unemployment may give short shrift to mounting pressure from the global community. However, giving time and financial backing freely will pay-off many fold in the future. Africa is home to the greatest untapped solar resources on earth and solar efficiency gains only serve to increase the prospect of solving the continent's energy needs in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Solar Energy Development in Shanghai, China

What can you do?

These arguments may have you nodding in agreement but actionable advice can be worth many times more than abstraction.

  • Be the change you wish to see in the world. Energy sustainability decisions may be made at a policy level, but conservation efforts start with us, the citizens of the world. Your buying decisions and personal habits make a huge difference to your personal footprint. You can even go a step further and try to institute positive changes at your place of work. Avoid buying heavily polluting diesel vehicles. And consider simple ways to reduce your food and water wastage.
  • Prioritize your spending on products that are shipped in recyclable materials. And, ideally, cut down on wastage altogether. Yes, this can even mean beloved products like pod-based espresso machines. As this buyer's guide by Right Health proves, there are other equally good options. Espresso machines may have become the focus of many critics but there are other consumer habits that are equally or more detrimental. For instance, plastic shopping bags and over-packaged food can lead to pollution and landfill.
  • Cast your vote for the political party that is most serious about tackling climate change. You needn't necessarily become a single-issue voter but placing environmental issues at the top of your agenda is an important step. Don't just pick the candidate who pays lip service to climate change, instead look closely at policy proposals to find who is truly serious about progress.

If you have an itch to go even further:

  • Learn what it takes to become a foreign aid worker and consider whether this career path may truly be the right one for you. For the right person, a career in development and international aid can be deeply rewarding and stimulating at the same time.
  • Donate to charitable causes that further work toward a sustainable, green future. The Conservation Fund is one excellent choice among many worthy options.
  • Finally, consider whether your skillset is suitable for a stint volunteering abroad. Critical talent shortages in engineering, green energy, and urban development can hinder the progress of upcoming nations. You may have something to offer of real meaning in your professional field.

Although it can be difficult, we must remain patient and optimistic in our mindset. True global sustainability won't come easily, but that doesn't mean we should give up fighting.

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