Ambassador Oreck of U.S. Embassy Helsinki (Finland) is the Chair of the League of Green Embassies. He has had a lifelong passion for nature and the wilderness. An avid hiker from his youth, Mr. Oreck has camped all over America, throughout Europe and much of East Africa. In 2003, Ambassador and Mrs. Oreck founded the Zero Carbon Initiative which is committed to implementing both experimental and off-the-shelf technologies in the built environment, not just to reduce but to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
OUR NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH ENERGY
Last year the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, in conjunction with Youth for Understanding (YFU) and the Center for International Mobility (CIMO), sent 15 Finnish students for a six week home-stay in my home State of Colorado. These Young Ambassadors undertook an amazing journey and have become part of a new generation of global citizens ready to influence how the world will reinvent its relationship with energy to frame the economic vitality of the 21st Century.
We wanted to provide an opportunity to showcase for these students all the things that are happening in the United States in the field of energy innovation, taking them beyond the country to country dialogue that dominates the headlines. In Colorado the students were able to see actions being undertaken everyday at the State and local level. And they were able to interact with people who were taking matters into their own hands and implementing individual change.
These actions do not undermine the government conversation, which is a vital component of global change and in which the U.S. Government is wholly engaged. Rather, these actions signify that in the United States we are not waiting for the conclusion of a lengthy and difficult process to take action. We are not waiting for the future to come to us, but are shaping the future into what we want it to be.
Often the best course a government can take is to stand aside and let innovators and entrepreneurs lead the way: to simply put the best minds on a problem and then give them the room to find a solution.
But most importantly, individuals do not have to wait to take action. Every person can make a difference just by being responsible for their own energy consumption. People often ask, “How can I afford to take the necessary steps to conserve energy?” But the real question should be “how can I NOT afford to take those steps.”
To implement effective change, each individual must re-evaluate and reinvent their relationship with energy. By taking very simple steps, every home and every business can increase their energy efficiency and simultaneously reduce their energy costs. Savings in energy translates directly to financial savings, and who does not want save money in these difficult financial times.
All of this represents an immense challenge, but it also represents the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st Century. How we choose to reinvent our relationship with energy will become the fundamental building block of the economy and frame the economic vitality of our age.
The U.S. Government is playing its part. Just this month President Obama announced a $4 billion investment to upgrade the energy efficiency of U.S. Government buildings. Several of the companies that have been enlisted to assist in that monumental effort are the very partners we have been working with through the League of Green Embassies to significantly overhaul our embassy in Helsinki and to improve U.S. Government missions throughout Europe and around the world. In keeping with the President’s National Export Initiative, the goal of the League is to turn each embassy into a platform of energy innovation, encouraging companies to create and showcase for a global market the latest technologies that reduce energy waste and lower costs.
But what it is really about is facing the responsibility of leaving a better world for young people like those who recently visited Colorado. We owe it to them to show that we care about the world we are leaving them and we should seek to inspire them to take action now. It is their future and they should work to shape it into what they want it to be, not just what others make it for them. We at Embassy Helsinki, and everyone involved in the League of Green Embassies, believe in the global partnerships we are forging to address these challenges and seize these opportunities. And these young Ambassadors embody our greatest hope for the future.