Remember last year’s oil spill in the San Francisco Bay? Remember how many thousands of volunteers came out to clean up the beaches and rescue oiled birds? Remember how many people were frustrated that they weren’t allowed to help without special training? Hearing those stories, you would have thought there were thousands and thousands of people in the Bay Area who are motivated to devote time and effort into an unpleasant task, in order to try to reduce environmental damage in the Bay Area. You would have thought that, and you would have been wrong. Or at least, you would have been somewhat misled. Volunteer-oriented groups, like Golden Gate Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, didn’t see their volunteer efforts swell with hundreds or thousands of new people. Almost all of these organizations rely on the same, rather small, groups of dedicated volunteers that they had before. Sure, some new people show up, but some regular volunteers drop out, and the numbers stay about the same.
I don’t really understand what the problem is. The would-be oil spill volunteers really did want to clean up the oil spill and help rescue oiled birds, I’m not questioning their desire to help. But for some reason oil-spill cleanup is the ONLY unpleasant jobs most of them are willing to do to help the environment. Is it because the oil spill got lots of press coverage? Is it because the oil spill was so visible?
Is there any way to get potential volunteers fired up to devote the same kind of energy to projects that are more mundane but even more important than oil spill cleanup? (For instance, whether the City of Richmond sets aside 20% or 80% of their shoreline as protected open space has environmental implications way, way, way bigger than an oil spill, but doesn’t get 1% of the press coverage or volunteer interest. It’s hard to get a dozen people to show up at a City Council meeting, never mind a hundred people or a thousand people).