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Green Berlin

From offering fresh produce at the Bio Market to encouraging biking, Berlin is an exemplary city for promoting a healthy, green lifestyle among its citizens.

MANILA, Philippines - In the year 2000 during my first visit to Berlin, I was not yet conscious about things like  “green initiatives” and “global warming,” Fourteen years later, here I am, back in Berlin attending a Green Learning visit to get familiar with what Berlin has been doing from the late 1990s to the present. They have, in fact, a plan called Berlin Climate 2050.

During this visit I also became more conscious of bike lanes, and the idea and appreciation of taking bicycles as a normal mode of mobility in spite of Berlin’s efficient mass transport systems – the street tram, the U-bahn or underground and the S-bahn or Strasse-bahn or streetcar.

I saw not one but a few Bio Markets – or what we call organic and natural supermarkets – there was the Bio Company and Denn’s BioMarket. There was a vegetarian café called “Till the Cows Come Home.” And there was a lot of awareness about climate change, too. In fact, 80 percent of Berlin’s residents are aware and know what to do to contribute to Berlin 2050. Each citizen has bought into the plan to make a green Berlin.

They use glass bottles whenever they can, they have a required deposit for plastic bottles (to ensure they get returned to the proper collection facility), and there is much use for ecobags or reusable bags when one goes shopping. Though there still are a lot of smokers, albeit concentrated in outdoor areas of restaurants and buildings, the air is otherwise so clean you can do your breathing exercises just about anywhere.

In fact, one of my co-delegates, a diabetic lady, noticed that she was feeling better in Berlin for the week we stayed in the green city. It could be the fresh fruits, good food, less or no rice in her diet and the fresh air as well. Imagine, she felt good waking up each day and we started to point to what could have caused the pleasant development. I think it is all of the above. Eggs at breakfast were organic, bread was freshly-baked, fruits were aplenty and to top it all, the coffee was good, too.

At breakfast I tried checking on how much sugar each person in our group put in their coffee. Out of a handful I spoke to about changing coffee habits, three people swore they changed their sugar habit right there during our weeklong visit. I hope they keep up the habit and develop or practice new healthier choices. The environment does a lot in getting people to change to better habits. And visiting Berlin made us think of the possibilities to live well, breathe well and work well.

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The German government does this with much resolve. No matter which government facility you meet with, there is an awareness about climate change and about the single unified plan of the country to address challenges related to carbon emissions. There is a plan to reduce carbon emissions to 1.7 tons/ person by 2050, down from more than two tons in 2010.

There is a very supportive environment for using Renewable Energy or RE. Feed in tariff rates encourage independent power producers to invest in their own power plants – wind farms, solar farms and bio-mass facilities.

But more than the industrial environment, what is obvious is the encouragement of renewable energy consumption in everyday life. Muscle power is used for urban mobility with the use of bicycles – something China had maybe 20 years ago. But all that has changed now in China. The upwardly mobile Chinese now drive cars or motorcycles. Same with Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. And that’s sad. They used to be biking cities.

In Berlin, you will see bikes parked in designated parking lots, and in the early morning rush, you will see droves of Berlin’s workforce biking to work. Even if Germany is a noted manufacturer of the world’s best-engineered cars, these are reserved for long distance travel on their fast autobahns or motorways.

Just to demonstrate the efficiency of public transport, our group of 23 green champions took public transport – all together – on several days of our meetings with government officials. We took all kinds of city transport – subways, street trams and walking, of course. Bikes can be rented for just 12 euros for a whole day.

In every meeting, we were served coffee, juice and water – the latter two always in glass bottles which are recyclable. It is a practice, a habit, a way of life.

What serves Berlin well is that it also houses the Institute of Climate Research (of the Federal government) where scientists are focused on determining climate changes to better guide local officials on what to do, how to monitor their power producers and which way the country is headed in terms of carbon emissions and its reduction.

We have got a long way to go, Manila, but there is a chance to breathe again in our parks or public places. First, we need to find good working models. It’s not in Asia, I’m afraid, but in Europe, where government and private groups look at one goal; where support institutions and the academe help the general public adapt to climate change.

In one discussion about climate research, Mr. Reussweg also mentioned sociological factors. Cars are no longer the status symbols they were many years ago. Today, status symbols are electronic gadgets, at least maybe among the youth. So people ride bikes while they use state-of-the-art gadgets. Less cars, less pollution. That is a wonderful development in the first world – where cars are now for function, rather than social status.

Where do we start, Manila? Cebu? Davao? It is heartwarming to know the German Government Cooperation (GIZ) is sharing this development with us. And we are more aware as green champions to walk the talk and push government and private sector to work together. What is the use of a wind farm if it cannot be replicated? What is the use of an ethanol plant if it is just one and not duplicated?

We can learn a lot from Berlin and even its neighbor, Potsdam, which is now one of the most developed in terms of renewable energy and addressing climate change.

Ahh, to breathe again in our parks or in our backyards. To be able to walk the streets without covering our noses. To be able to bike in a city, rather than ride a car. It can be done. It may not happen overnight but a green future is something we would like to look forward to. And each one of us has a role to play.

How will you start greening our country today?

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