Is there a crude awakening in store for volunteerism?

Andy Fryar August 1, 2007 0
Is there a crude awakening in store for volunteerism?


by OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

The cry of Chicken Little proclaiming that ‘the sky is falling’ is an easy mantra to take in today’s world of population growth, economic uncertainty, terrorism and environmental turbulence. Conversely, it is all too easy for us to sit back and assume that someone else will figure out a way to fix the problems our world is facing (most likely volunteers!)

While I don’t think either approach is entirely helpful, I do think that now is a good time to spend a little time reflecting on the likely impact that some of these emerging issues may have, on a practical level, in the work that we all do.

Over recent months, I have been amongst the many going along to see movies such as Al Gore’s film about global warming ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and the newly released ‘A Crude Awakening’, which is a must see about what appears to be an impending world crude oil shortage, that has the potential to change everything about the way we currently enjoy our lives.

Like so many others, I am deeply concerned about just what in the world we have done to this earth and I wonder what the implications of these global matters might be on the remaining years of my life and on the lives of future generations. While there has been a lot written about ways we can take some remedial measures of corrective actions, especially for global warming, I wanted this month to cast my eye across the crystal ball and ponder (as best I can) what this may mean for volunteerism

Let me begin by stating that I am working from a position here that believes global warming to be a real phenomenon that will get worse before it gets better. I am also taking a position that affirms there will be a world shortage of crude oil in the coming years which will affect many spheres of life, force us to look for alternative power sources and have an impact on many parts of society.

So here goes!

These are really just a list of random thoughts, but it is my hope that by beginning to think these issues through, we may be in a better position to deal with them as they arise.

Firstly, let’s briefly explore global warming and climate change.

Global warming tells us that the earth’s atmosphere is heating up, and that we all need to work hard at reversing this. In a nutshell, if we are to be successful in turning this trend around, it will require the concerted effort of billions of people all over the globe, including governments and big business, to work to this one end. If we are not successful, we can expect continued bizarre and extreme weather amongst other things.

I believe we have already witnesses some of the fallout from this. The greater number and intensity of natural disasters over recent years has seen a giant mobilisation of emergency relief efforts by volunteers the world over and an increased focus on ways that volunteers can be managed within these often episodic and short burst emergency situations.

This has resulted in a greater focus on the work of those volunteers on the ‘front line’, and in some circumstances led to greater resources being made available to this part of the sector. What appears to have not always been quite so evident is the increased effort by those organisations that might be referred to as being more ‘behind the scenes’ in responding to these incidents – providing counselling services, emergency shelter, blankets, food and the like.

Increased natural disasters will continue to place strain on what are often already scarce resources, and we need to be careful to manage these resources well in order to keep them available.

Closely associated with this, are the massive monetary appeals which are launched during these times of need. The funds raised through these pleas go towards assisting those left in need through these disasters, but I do wonder if that leaves less money in the pockets of donors to give to the work of other parts of the volunteering community?

Some of the other possible impacts may include:

  • An exodus of volunteers from mainstream volunteer programs into environmental causes, leaving a shortfall of available volunteers in other areas of volunteering
  • A corresponding move of govt and corporate sponsorship for volunteer and volunteer management training into both emergency services and environmental volunteer projects at the expense of other spheres of volunteer involvement
  • The development of new and exciting volunteer led solutions to some of the environmental problems we face
  • An increase of collaborative international volunteering initiatives to find these solutions

Secondly, I’d like to look at the likely impact of rising world oil prices on the work that we do.

I have a feeling that the impending oil shortage is still a relatively unknown (or at least unrecognised) problem by society at large, but I am quite sure it will continue to gain headlines over the next few years. For those not familiar with this problem, there is much evidence to suggest that while the demand for crude oil around the world is growing (especially with the industrialisation of China and India ) our need for this finite resource is quickly outstripping our ability to meet that demand.

You only need to examine what happens to the price of fuel when a new conflict arises in the Middle East or a natural disaster hits an oil field to have an inkling of what this future may begin to look like. Imagine fuel being so expensive that owning a vehicle is out of reach for most. Or a world in which air travel is only for the elite. And it’s not just fuel either – consider all the other items of everyday life that use petroleum based products that would be impacted by a lack of oil production.

If you believe that sounds fanciful, consider that in the US , the cost per barrel of crude oil has doubled from $US27 a barrel in 2003 to $US53 today. Some are predicting that by 2010 or 2011 this will rise to $US100 a barrel for the first time. Regardless of the accuracy of these predictions, no-one can argue that prices are on the increase, and as a result we are all paying more for travel, freight and many other things.

This is already having an impact. For instance, a 2005 survey conducted by Volunteering Australia revealed that 84% of volunteer respondents believed that rises in petrol prices presented a barrier to volunteering while 52 percent of organisations surveyed reported that an increase in travel costs had led to volunteers within their agencies questioning or stopping their volunteer work as a direct result of increased travel costs.

So as I gaze into my crystal ball, what are some of the other likely outcomes of this trend?

  • Overall increase in the cost of living
  • Increased unemployment due to production costs putting companies out of business (in a worse case scenario this may also in turn lead to increased homelessness, crime and other things)
  • Increased needs for volunteers to assist aid agencies and other volunteer organisations to meet the needs cited above
  • A society less reliant on motor vehicles
  • A society less able to travel (or afford to travel) to participate in volunteering
  • A decrease in areas of volunteering such as voluntourism and overseas volunteer work
  • More focus on local volunteering opportunities
  • More focus on ways that volunteers can participate remotely (ie via the internet)

Now I am sure there are a million things I could add, and I know there are many readers far more familiar with these debates than I, but the point of this hot topic is simply to raise some debate on these important issues, and to that end I am keen to hear your thoughts on all of the above.


  • Do we have a reason to be concerned or not? Why / Why not?
  • What are some of the other likely impacts I have not mentioned?
  • What are the solutions for us in the volunteerism sector?
  • Are we ready?


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