Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Climate leader’s encounter at Gezi Park

Indeed climate change is real and this was evident at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, a 3 day extensive and intriguing session. The aim was to train leaders globally to develop skills and provide information to create action on climate change.

It was 14th - 16th June 2013 and saw the congregation of about 600 passionate environmental delegates from 94 countries with the common goal of learning about the growing concern of climatic changes, its impact on the quality of life, our environment and the drive to promote this awareness globally. We had the honor of being invited to this great event organized by the Nobel Laureate Al Gore the former Vice President of the United States of America and Chairman of Climate Reality - an environmental movement for change.

Ironically, the training was scheduled to hold in Istanbul, Turkey close to Taksim Square where for over 10 days, prior to the scheduled training, there has been ongoing environmental protests by members of the public tagged “Occupy Gezi” aimed at halting the development of a section of Gezi park for the construction of a replica of the Topcu Barracks by the government as part of the Taksim rejuvenation project.

The first day of the training, which happened to be a Friday started with the introductory session and developing of presentation skills in order to promote conversations. At the end of the day, a group of us (delegates) went towards Taksim Square to have dinner and were trilled by the activities around Gezi Park where there was singing and dancing by protesters. After dinner, we joined in and hung around to enjoy the scenery and it was a nice experience. 

On Saturday, 15th of June which was the main day, we had an opportunity of having a whole day (10 hours) with Al Gore where he went through a presentation to prepare us for  leadership roles as Climate Change Volunteers. He gave the presentation with so much passion, enthusiasm and drive, it was really inspiring for most of us especially me.

As we trained to promote action on climate change, the Turkish protesters at Gezi Park made the place habitable by building tents to enhance resistance to government officials with the resilience to protect the park. These two activities by different groups of individuals had the common goal of environmental protection and location close to Taksim Square but the approach towards achieving the goals were different. The training by climate reality involved a group of individuals passionate about the environment whilst the protests at Gezi Park were becoming political and more or less violent.

Encounter at Gezi Park: After spending a day with Al Gore, we were energized, learnt a lot about the science behind climate change and the devastating effects in some areas. We all made individual commitments to go forth and win the climate change conversations. As I went through the training, I started having ideas on how to positively impact my community. An evening of cocktails and canapés was organized afterwards to promote networking opportunities and picture taking. It was an opportunity for delegates to interact with those from other countries or continents sharing ideas and experiences since they were previously grouped by continent/country during the training. 

There were discussions on ideas for the ten activities the Climate leaders had committed to in the next one year and how they were going to tell the stories in order to influence individuals, organizations and government to carry out action to combat the climate change. Spending time with fellow climate leaders was inspiring, after a while I joined a group of 15 climate leaders who decided to go on a boat cruise to Bosphorous strait to sail between the shores of Europe and Asia.  We were all excited as we walked from the reception venue to get a bus to take us to the ferry for the boat cruise chatting away. As we approached Gezi Park, we noticed that protesters were wearing nose mask and a couple of people were wearing hardhats. I brought this to the attention of my fellow delegates for the atmosphere was different from what we observed the previous day where we were singing and dancing. As we walked past the park we realized that policemen were surrounding the park and there was so much activity. Immediately I realized that, I told my colleagues I was leaving and advised them to do same. We retreated and took the emergency route we had earlier identified the day before. Suddenly the policemen started firing tear gas and pepper spray on protesters and people around the part.

At that point, people scampered we had lost some of our colleagues in the crowd, as there was so much chaos with people running, children crying and protesters chanting their songs in the Turkish language. We finally made it to a luxurious hotel called Marti Istanbul hotel and walked into the lobby away from the “teargas” and confusion. We spent over 3hours at the hotel reception networking, wining and dining. 

At about midnight the situation got worse and we were advised not to return to our hotel. We had to pay for rooms at the hotel and guess what, it was a lot nicer and fancier that our initial hotel, and as relief for a successful escape, I pampered myself with a Turkish Bath .

Afterwards, my colleagues and I hung out at the lounge, chatting until the early hours of the morning so we only slept for a few hours but the great part of our stay at Marti was the full breakfast buffet we had in the morning before setting out to our rooms to get our stuff. When we saw the devastations on the street close to our hotel we were glad we stayed back.

The last day of the training was a bit distracting as a lot of people were busy trying to reschedule their tickets to leave earlier than scheduled or trying to relocate to safer areas of Istanbul.

Lessons Learned: The following lessons were identified in the course of this experience.

Ø  The organizers did not communicate updates on the security issues surrounding the location of the training.
Ø  As tourist, we should be observant and apply situational awareness at all times especially when you are in an area you are not familiar with.
Ø  Always avoid crowded area and if possible areas of proposed security risks.
Ø  Ensure you always have an emergency evacuation plan by identifying routes of exit; after assessing the risk of an area, always make contingency plans.
Ø  Always follow your instincts, if it looks suspicious, it probably is suspicious so thread carefully.
Ø  There is safety in numbers, do not move alone but when the team is too large, it becomes difficult to manage.

The great part of this experience was that there were no casualties among the Climate Leaders although there were a lot of near misses and the sad news is that most of us did not have the opportunity of enjoy the beautiful city of Istanbul. A survey taken from the group showed that a majority of delegates intend to visit Istanbul again to have a tour of this wonderful city.

We are all ambassadors of the climate change reality happening in our world, make a difference; spread the word.

Written by O’ Reese of En-pact Solutions Limited, 2013
Twitter: @O Reese2

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