Volunteerism, the possible missing link in climate adaptation, mitigation

The passion for climate action and justice being displayed by diverse groups, organisations and institutions is not necessarily motivated by volunteerism.

As we explore and navigate the complex terrain of climate change adaptation, harnessing the power of volunteerism is key to community development. While many people are serious about climate change adaptation and mitigation, it is the spirit and culture of volunteerism which is missing for people to transform community landscapes and infrastructure.

It is important in this regard to first unpack the troublesome words that are sometimes used interchangeably in public discourses. Volunteerism is viewed as an act of contributing to community service or supporting a non-profit organisation. Therefore, volunteerism is a system of providing time and energy towards a greater cause such as changing the lives of the community without necessarily being paid. Volunteering allows one to connect with their community and make it a better place. Volunteering, volunteerism and voluntary are understood to be activities undertaken for the public good, for which monetary reward is not the motivating factor.

The passion for climate action and justice being displayed by diverse groups, organisations and institutions is not necessarily motivated by volunteerism. The act of volunteering should be intrinsically driven, motivated by the love of the environment and climate justice issues not necessarily financial rewards. Volunteering should stem from interest in community development issues, the love for nature and sustainable development, not monetisation.

Although climate meetings, workshops and conferences are necessary for planning and climate mapping purposes, the rate at which time is spent in this regard and not on the ground, is quite alarming just for one reason, that is greasing of palms. We all live and work for money but the financial requirements have retarded climate adaptations on the ground. Although monetary benefits are everything, they are not the answer to complex climate change problems destroying livelihood options. The need to shape the environment and transform it through intrinsic motivation is the missing link.

In the presence of donor funds, endless meetings, workshops and conferences, the climate problems are firmly upon us, in fact they are accelerating. Lack of transformation of knowledge and information workshops into desired actions, results and solutions is quite evident and nothing can mask that. Current and unfolding eclectic climate interventions are failing to inspire the climate foot soldiers in communities where climate change impacts are raging.

Local communities’ knowledge of local landscape ecology, physical features and social structures should make it possible for climate volunteerism to take place. Volunteering is about doing things for others and the environment without expecting financial rewards in return. These initiatives cannot be realised if there are two climate worlds apart, one for those that think, plan and benefit for the marginalised and poor while the other world is for the marginalised, who have never set foot in the boardrooms, are not called to meetings and workshops but their plight is key in sourcing donor funds. The marginalised communities are ever ready to perform voluntary community duties and climate change adaptation programmes if guidance and motivation are available. People engage in climate volunteerism to tackle complex environmental issues, disasters and poverty, improve quality of lives and build resilience.

Through volunteering, communities can inspire and motivate each other, demonstrate to authorities how things can be done so that they become accountable and transform policy. Volunteerism is motivated by climate justice concerns, amplifying marginalised climate voices and groups such as women, children, the youths, the physically challenged and the elderly, among others. It is, therefore, important to respond to the needs of the above-mentioned groups so that they are empowered to take charge of their lives, take care of their environment and establish reciprocal relations with it.

Without taking anything away from established institutions and organisations driving climate initiatives, most of the interventions end up as pledges, promises, information bribery, social media frenzy and competition including the need to be number one, in principle not action while being blinded by self-interests and rigidity.

Climate action volunteers in communities who plant trees, conserve landscapes, participate in land restorations, repair damaged roads, build small-scale water reservoirs for market gardening and livestock require motivation and reinforcements. These people remain unnoticed and unsung heroes, away from the media, social media and boardroom frenzy. These community heroes do not need television crews and cameras following them everywhere, they do not need unnecessary publicity, grandstanding and posturing, they just do their work quietly while their actions are testimony for the work they do.

It is also difficult to combat climate change if climate interventions are an act of drama and pretense and if the gap between climate activism and action is not bridged.

While climate noise is part of the community of practice, it needs to be toned down, to climate voices which help to build confidence, avoid self-pampering and exaggerated climate champions while there is no evidence on the ground for their presumed efforts.

If managed properly, volunteers’ initiatives should translate to long-lasting positive impacts on the environment and communities. While social media is key in providing space and amplifying voices left out by the mainstream media, it is rather abused and taken for granted.

Besides, the role of volunteers remains the least recognised, the least understood. the least researched and the least publicised despite overwhelming evidence of self-driven community interventions. Climate volunteering at community level, remains unattractive, unincentivised, unguided and often neglected because of lack of coverage by mainstream media.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on: [email protected] 

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