Freitag, 6. Juli 2007

Declaring my love - for jeepneys

I travel lots (for work), but usually have little time to appreciate what I see while traveling. To be honest, to be constantly on the road without ever being a traveler, is one of my main frustrations. I often realize with dismay, that I actively shut myself off to the impressions of the new and unexpected that foreign places provide. I need to function, after all. I need to work.

But some things make an impression on you, even when you are in ‘work mode’. I can recount countless beautiful skies over New York City, stored in my memory while walking to the UN. I will also never forget the view, smell and feel of crossing Hong Kong harbour on a ferry. And I certainly - on a visit to Manila earlier this year - fell in love with their main form of public transport: jeepneys. Jeepneys are as colourful and crazy as ‘matatus’ but - probably because they are bigger and bulkier - they have even more majesty and flair. The side windows are usually open – allowing for a wonderful breeze. Riding on a jeepney on an unpleasant and humid day can give you instant relief from the heat.

We can - and all do – love things that we know not to be perfect. So my affection for the jeepneys was real even though they run - very inefficiently - on fossil fuels; I would certainly not want to cycle behind one for any length of time (for the fear of choking). But when you love something and it gets even better: that’s true joy.

That’s what just happened with the jeepneys! My wonderful Philippino colleagues have teamed up with a solar-company and GRIPP and developed a fossil-fuel free jeepney - run on renewable energy. Now if that isn’t cool, I do not know what is. As colourful as the original – but not belching smoke. A form of transport that is fun and that our children can still enjoy. I certainly do not believe that technology can provide us with all the answers. But I do believe that these jeepneys are a giant step in the right direction. They should be an example to cities around the world.

Berlin, like many northern cities, has recently imported the idea of cycle rickshas from Asia. Wouldn’t it be plain wonderful if we imported fossil-free jeepneys next? I, for one, would be a fan.

But, of course, in order for all jeepneys to be run on sustainable energy – we must first revolutionize our energy system. In the Philippines as well as Germany. We must abandon coal and nuclear power. So, inspired by the jeepneys, it’s back to fighting for an energy revolution.

Thanks for lifting my spirits, though. Especially to Athena Ronquillo. I say I do not like heros – but I have to confess, she is one of mine as well! When others say "it can't be done", she perseveres. Now she has helped revolutionize a Philippino icon.

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