'I Can’t Drop Everything and Go Put Out Fires in Australia. I Need to Earn a Living'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: An Italian trying to do his part to save the planet, and an Australian who feels lost when she's not in pain

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Nicola Zulian.
Nicola Zulian.Credit: Meged Gozani
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Nicola Zulian, 37, lives in Padua, Italy; arriving from Venice

Hello, can I ask what you will be doing in Israel?

I work for an international company that is based in Tel Aviv and that also has offices in Italy. I’ve been working there for two months, and this is my first trip to Israel. There will be 350 people from around the world at a conference, most of them salespeople, and they've got five days of work planned for us, but I think there will be some fun, too. There will be a party, and I’m also taking two extra days to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

What do you sell?

I sell inverters, mainly in northeastern Italy. There is the panel that absorb solar energy and there is the device that converts the energy from heat into electricity – so I sell the converter device. That was also my first job, and I went on to advance within the sector.

Passion for the subject – or golden cage?

Passion. I really love this work and I believe in renewable energy. I think that in another 10 years, solar will be our most important source of energy. It’s very important even now, but it makes sense to conclude that it will be the world’s major source of energy.

Okay, I understand that you’re here to work. Sell me solar energy.

We all consume energy in increasing amounts. Already today we see the extent to which we need more and more energy in everyday life, even at the level of kitchen appliances. If we think about what is happening, with climate change and all, we have to understand that it is no longer possible to use sources such as oil and gas the way we were. Actually, solar energy is the safest, cheapest and most environmentally friendly method that anyone could hope for.

Do you think that in the future everyone will produce their own solar energy? A panel for every prole?

Maybe not every person in another 10 years, but in another 50 years I am almost certain of that, yes. I am pretty convinced that in another decade, the amount of solar energy produced will at least double. In Italy, for example, the legislature ordered the production by 2030 of 10 times the amount of solar energy being created today, and Italy is a relatively small place, certainly in comparison to North America or China. It’s also important to understand that the price of the panels is going down every year. I think that’s wonderful, because it makes solar energy a lot more accessible and practical. When I started out working in this field, in 2006, panels that produced three kilowatts cost $20,000, and today they cost only $6,000. That should keep going down, at least to a certain point, because there is a minimum cost of installation and materials.

The quality is also improving, no?.

Yes. The units are still the same size they were a decade ago, but each one generates more electricity. If a panel of 1.60 meters produced 180 watts, today it generates 400 watts.

I don’t know how much a watt is, but it sounds like a lot. How did you get into the field?

I studied international economics in Padua, but when I got to the solar energy sector, I realized pretty fast that this was a developing field and that I would be able to stay in it over time. What really appealed to me is that it was possible to work and at the same time to help the planet.

Very nice of you.

Thank you. I really do feel that it’s not just a business, and that I really am helping change something, to make the world a tiny bit better. Unfortunately, I can’t drop everything now and go to Australia to help put out the fires – I need to earn a living – but if I can do something that does a little good and also earn a living, that makes me happy. It’s also very nice that as time passes it is becoming easier and easier to sell the idea of solar energy, simply because people are becoming more aware of what’s happening in terms of climate change.

What about other types of renewable energy?

Besides solar, there is also wind energy, but turbines can be installed only in very particular places, whereas solar panels can and should be installed everywhere in the world. Except maybe on the spires of Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Sara Borman.Credit: Meged Gozani

Sara Borman, 24, lives in Sydney, Australia, and flying there

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

I was on Birthright [the program that offers subsidized trips to Israel], and then I traveled in Europe for a few months. I’m going back to Australia via Israel to get the flight for free.

Did your parents suggest that you stay here, because of the fires?

It started to get really bad just when I left. I work at the airport, just outside the city, and there were a few days when I sat at a bus stop surrounded by clouds of smoke. It was impossible to see the horizon. My mother has asthma, and since I've been away, I’ve heard her panting more and more in our conversations. It’s so awful, half a billion animals dead… ! When I was in London with my cousin, I ran into a demonstration against climate problems. They waved an Australian flag and I simply started to cry.

Do you have family in London?

Yes, a large family. I really love visiting with them, even though it’s not so simple.

Because of the distance and the cost?

That, too, and I’m on a lot of medication, so sometimes it’s hard or impossible for me in health terms.

Are you healthy now?

I have Crohn’s disease, so there are ups and downs. The last time I traveled I was getting infusions every two months, and because I wasn’t at home I would have had to pay something like £7,000 each time. For that price I could simply have flown home, had the treatment, slept in a luxury hotel and gone back.

But that’s not what you did.

I passed up the treatment and got really sick, and only then did I understand that I had to go back home. Now I get injections once every two weeks, it’s easier to travel like that.

How long have you had Crohn’s?

I was diagnosed when I was 17, but I began suffered from attacks when I was 14. I had the symptoms for a long time, but they didn’t understand what I had. The doctor would say to me, “Maybe it’s your period? Or a virus, or food poisoning?” And in the meantime, I was writhing in pain and throwing up all night. At one stage my intestines just closed up, so I had surgery to remove a certain part of them. It’s a disease that’s not always taken seriously, and it’s complicated even after the diagnosis. Sometimes I have blood tests and I’m told that everything is all right, but I feel lousy and it’s clear the situation is going to deteriorate.

Sounds like a nightmare.

You get used to a certain level of pain and forget that it’s there. Besides that, it’s very important for me to function. Birthright, say, has a form that says that even if it’s hard for you during the trip you [commit to doing] the activities, because you are getting them as a gift. I signed, even though my doctor objected, because I really want to do things, even if it’s hard.

And was it hard?

Climbing Masada was. I felt bad. There was a part you were supposed to crawl through, but I couldn’t do it because it was too narrow, and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It’s a question of limits; I think I’m not good at figuring them out myself. My tendency is to tell myself, “Just do it,” but that type of thinking makes me do stupid things.

I blame Nike.

I don’t, but it’s not only my thing. As soon as you tell people you have something – a disease, or depression or anxiety – they start telling you about people they know in a similar situation who did so-and-so. There’s also the tendency of the milieu to say, “Do it,” when really, those stories only make me feel bad. And when someone tells me, “My daughter has Crohn’s and she became a doctor,” I think, “Hey, even without Crohn’s, I wouldn’t be able to be a doctor.”

For sure I won’t be able to convey how funny it is when you talk about it.

I have lots of practice. I was sick for a long time, and my life revolved around the illness, and people would say, “You’re always talking about your illness,” and I’d say I’ll talk about it as much as I want to. But the truth is I feel quite lost without the pain. Lately, when I have days without it, I don’t know what to do or how to cope, but then I get up in the morning with a light pain and I say, “Ahh, okay, this I know about.”

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