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Good Samaratin

Good Samaritan

Andrzej Gula – Poland

Coal burning banned in Krakow, Poland? Why? How? A survey ~ a Facebook campaign ~ oh, and Andrzej Gula. First, the survey. Unfunded and volunteer driven, it showed Krakow’s air to be the third dirtiest in Europe.

“When you get many supporters on Facebook and in social media, you become a real power, and politicians want to talk to you because they see they can reach voters,” says Andrzej Gula, of the Krakow Smog Alert.

Andrzej Guła is an environmental economist of the Institute for Environmental Economics, who helped launch and spearhead the initiative for Krakow’s Smog Alert, which monitors air pollution.

What happened only a year after Krakow Smog Alert launched its Facebook campaign to tackle emissions from coal? A major victory for Krakow Smog Alert in November when the regional parliament announced a ban on burning coal in home stoves. Close to 20,000 people were engaged with their Facebook page and a mass demonstration drew hundreds of supporters in October 2013. Although he understands that protest can be a drastic way of showing discontent, the problem is that authorities haven’t solved the problems that concern the people they represent. If coal is ruining their air quality, the politicians can’t be afraid of doing something about just because of the mining industry.

Protesters were calling attention to the harms of air pollution to the local population, high rates of asthma and premature deaths. They tired of city officials routinely warning parents to stop children from playing outside on the days of the highest pollution and not taking the next logical step.

In 2013, reportedly about 50% of Krakow’s winter air pollution came from domestic stoves powered by coal and 50% came from power plants and traffic. The World Health Organization (WHO) rated the city among the most polluted in the world. In the report, Krakow was ranked 8th among 575 cities for levels of particulate matter 2.5 and 145th among 1100 cities for levels of particulate matter 10. (See this description of particulate matter.) Apparently, 35,000 households were using coal to heat their homes. Since Krakow residents see coal as the major source of the pollution, they demand a political solution.

In November 2013, a coal summit was opened in Warsaw to review Poland’s unwillingness to tackle its contribution to bad air and the smog.

In November 2013, local Krakow officials voted to ban residential wood and coal-burning, which will come into full force by September 2018.

The plan to phase out coal was “An almost unthinkable outcome when we started the campaign,” said Andrzej Gula.

Citizen groups complained that the ban hits the poorest people the worst. However, proponents argue that it needs to be done so that future generations don’t accuse current decision makers and active citizens of not lifting a finger about a very serious concern.

In 2013, public opinion mobilized around the issue. The Krakow Smog Alert emerged as the most high-profile campaign. They hope that the smog alert campaign can be replicated in other Polish urban communities, especially when it comes to how future EU spending is concerned.

Coal is a valuable national resource in Poland. The state either completely or partially owns or controls most of the country’s coal and lignite mining companies and electricity producers. Coal is responsible for approximately 85% of Poland’s electricity. A growing share of coal is in the form of lignite, a low-grade mineral with a high carbon content. There is an ample supply in Poland’s mines.

Still, since 2009, Poland has been a net importer of coal given that the domestic industry can’t keep up with demand. But you guessed it. Citizen willingness to pay such a high price for careless reliance on coal is fading to black.  On the bright side, the growing awareness has led to many Polish citizens voicing that they are willing to leave coal behind and want to see an increase in serious prevention efforts countering the negative effects of climate change.

Simply by living and breathing in Krakow for a year, a resident inhales as much benzopyrene, a highly carcinogenic pollutant, as he or she would from smoking 2,500 cigarettes, according to an analysis by the activist group Bankwatch. (Andrzej Gula is part of Bankwatch.)

And so I leave you with this ~ bad air as a reason to turn your head to the side and cough? I doubt it!

Although what I’d hope to see more of is Andrzej Gula’s activism make a positive difference in the future.

Better air isn’t cough syrup surrealism, naturally.

Sources: The Guardian, BBC News, CEE Bankwatch Network, ThinkProgress, Salon, NY Times, Green Technology World TMC Network, National Geographic, Krakow.gazeta.pl, Financial Times, www.krakowskialarmsmogowy.pl

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