Wednesday, May 12, 2021

My first trip to Europe…for climate change

You should have been there to see my elation. Finally my prayers were answered. Everyone could see my wide grin as I jumped up and down like a small boy when my flight was announced. “Hey Berlin, here I come,” I thought as the Air Botswana’s ATR flight rushed down the runway.

As it flew off the ground, my thoughts zoomed back to a history class I attended back in 1989. I always wondered how I would feel in a country that was once led by Adolf Hitler. At school I enjoyed European history.

Now I was given an opportunity to visit Germany, thanks to my reporting prowess on climate change, a phenomenon that is perhaps as nerve wrecking as Hitler’s regime. I was on my way to Germany, thanks to an invitation and return ticked from the German government. What an achievement. It was inevitable that my thoughts would return to matters of the environment as I cruised through the skies. Just what is the carbon foot print of travelling by flight compared to, say traveling by ship? What kind of greenhouse gases does this noisy bird excrete per trip? What about the bigger Jet airplanes?

“Perhaps this is one of the questions I should ask facilitators at the seminar,” I thought.

I then reverted to a book titled “Life overflows” by Reverend T.B. Jakes. In the book, T.D. Jakes wrote about love for money as the root of all evil. He was right, given that humanity wantonly engages in strife for international, national and individual wealth, excessively emitting greenhouse gases without care and consideration of what harm they are inflicting on the atmosphere. Because I had written extensively on the dangers of climate change in my home country Botswana, the German government found it fit to bestow on me the honor of attending this prestigious seminar and discuss with leading academics, journalists and scientists how best to tackle climate change.

In no time the ATR was flying above Johannesburg, the city of gold. As I peeped through the window, I noticed how the Johannesburg landscape was dotted with gaping holes that were a stark reminder of the mining activity on which the city was founded, which eventually earned it the name “Egoli-City of Gold”. I could not help but imagine the impact on the environment that all this mining and industrialization was having, and whether there were any efforts to rehabilitate the environment. We cruised along the tarmac and in no time I was engulfed by the hustle and bustle of OR Tambo International Airport. I felt like a character out of a movie script. I have often watched movies in which detectives chased after drug mules and other criminals through airport buildings. As I rode on those commuter buses, I marveled at the huge airplanes and smiled as my hand gripped onto those ‘hooks’ they use to support passengers. I wish I had my camcorder, really. OR Tambo International Airport was amazing. One minute I was busy with customs and immigration officials, stamping documents and passing through security gates, the other minute I was asking for directions. OR Tambo is a small town and an airport combined.

I was rushing against time to board my connecting flight. It was a huge Swiss Airlines plane. I was travelling with a fellow scribe, Absalom Shigwedha, am award winning environmental reporter from Namibia. We first met during a Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) conference at GICC. It was a further blessing when I discovered that I would sit next to a Motswana woman for the 10hour 40 minute journey to Zurich. I chose to sit by the window because I wanted to take everything in. I have in my cell phone the rising Zurich sun as well as the mountains covered with snow. 11 hours later I landed on Zurich International Airport to catch another transfer flight to Berlin. I discovered that there were lots of solar panels on the rooftops as we descended down to Zurich.

Even though they don’t have as much sunshine as we do, the Swiss are really serious about green, renewable energy. The Zurich airport was large and very busy. My ticket was labeled gate AD. I had to walk long distances, climb stairs and take wrong turns before I finally reached the gate I was looking for. Perhaps for purposes of mitigation, Zurich airport uses electric trains to transport transferring passengers the long distances from their points of disembarking to boarding points. And those guys have some seriously tight security. I forgot to take my wallet out of my back pocket and security personnel scurried towards me and sternly ordered me to step aside, after a check point machine shrieked loudly as I passed through it. One of them came towards me belligerently with plastic gloves covering his hands.

“Step aside Sir. Come here. What’s in your pocket?” he asked as he directed me to a cubicle some few meters away.

“A wallet,” I responded as I removed it from my back pocket.

He instructed me to put it down and I obeyed. Over the next two minutes I was frisked and scanned all over. I was even instructed to raise my feet so my shoes could be searched and scanned. Eventually the ordeal was over and I was allowed to continue on my journey. But I had lost valuable time and now I was in danger of missing my connecting flight. So I ran for dear life, down some stairs along stretching hallways. There was no time. Soon the gates would be closed. I did not know how to contact my hosts though I had their contacts. Soon I caught up with two Asian guys who were clearly rushing against time just like me. We jumped onto yet another bus, sweating and panting as we rushed against time. I had lost my Namibian friend, who was no stranger to Zurich airport, having attended the seminar before.

By the grace of God I managed to catch my connecting flight to Berlin. I arrived safely and I was immediately impressed by the Germans commitment to a clean and safe environment. Berlin is definitely serious about clean energy. A number of factors testify to this. The number of electric trains here makes public transport a pleasure.

Believe it or not, people in Berlin definitely monitor carbon foot print. On entering your hotel room, lights are automatically switched on. They switch off automatically once you swipe your key card and exit. Toilets gush out highly pressured water, enough to flush waste with very little water. As I went to sleep that night, I wondered how long it would take before Botswana can have its own electric trains, take water conservation seriously, save electricity and seriously tackle issues of climate change. Whether we like it or not, climate change is a reality that we must contend with. You think not? Answer this…why is Gaborone Dam dry?

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