Renewable Dreams: Turning Sustainability Into Reality

There are a lot of environmental challenges facing the world today. From plastic pollution to dwindling fossil fuels to climate change, these issues have been at the forefront of many headlines recently. With global activists like Greta Thurnburg and Vanessa Nakate calling the worlds attention to these challenges, it is important to recognize what is already possible while still striving for a radical reinvention of our planet.

No places better exemplify this than islands. Often isolated from mainland sources of power generation or renewable infrastructure, islands rely on radical reinventions of traditional ways of powering communities. From recycling plastic or hazardous waste to generating stable sources of electricity, what are already difficult challenges on the mainland multiply tenfold in complexity in island economies.

Last week, we highlighted the Self-Sustaining Ocean Cleanup on our Facebook page, a monumental initiative aiming to clean up as much plastic as one Great Pacific Garbage Patch every four years, ensuring the trash does not wind its ways onto island shorelines unequipped to handle the waste. This week we highlighted the Islands Energy Program, an initiative from the Rocky Mountain Institute aiming to provide remote islands with renewable sources of energy. While on the surface these initiatives seem to have little to do with one another other than promoting a sustainable future, they are both two sides of a sustainable development coin: dreaming big and implementing actionable ideas.

Twenty years ago, solar and wind power was just beginning to be used as a viable and widespread technology to replace fossil fuel sources. Yet it was incredibly expensive and not often viewed as a truly practical alternative. Many nay-sayers continued to claim it could never truly tackle a market or solve a challenge as large as supplying the worlds electricity. Yet in 2018, renewables made up 26.2 percent of global electricity generation. That figure is expected to climb to 45-50 percent by 2050. Several decades ago, this reality would not have been thought possible.

But thanks to projects like the Island Energy Program, dedicated personnel, communities, and innovators turned this dream into a present-day reality. Projects like the Self-Sustaining Ocean Cleanup, on the other hand, are still in early development and dream-big phases. Similar inventions faced several years of setbacks despite raising a reported $35 million from investors.

While this project is still in its early days, attempting to iron out the snags in the technology, it should keep faith that a changing planet will help this become a reality in more ways than one. Even as we continue to produce more and more plastic, consumers are more aware than ever before and willing to invest in projects or products that make a difference. Just as solar panels on home roofs may soon become ubiquitous, so too may self-sustaining floating booms sweeping our seas of plastic.

Each step towards a sustainable future requires an intricate mix of big ideas, dedicated dreamers, and actionable innovation. Success takes time to build—from the careful cultivation of relationships between island communities and energy experts to leading the energy transition process, projects like the Islands Energy program have gradually turned these ideas into a reality. We would not be where we are today without the concepts that seemed too challenging to attain at the time. So let’s dream big—and help the dreamers turn their visions into realities.

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