Polish youth are the key to solving its smog crisis

Polish youth are the key to solving its smog crisis

 Smog in  Kraków , Poland. Credit: Jacek Bednarczyk/Polska Agencja Prasowa ( Polish Press Agency )

Smog in Kraków, Poland. Credit: Jacek Bednarczyk/Polska Agencja Prasowa (Polish Press Agency)

Although Poland has diverse and beautiful nature, air pollution is worsening in bigger cities, especially in the more industrial parts to the south. Information, alerts, and data are smattered across the news, triggering government and non-governmental organizations to debate solutions to the situation.

According to the latest ‘Air quality in Europe’ report by the European Environment Agency, the average lifespan in Poland is shortened by nine months due to the air pollutions, leaving over 48,000 Poles to die prematurely every year. Every year, people in Silesian cities (which are mostly in Poland) inhale the same amount of contaminants that would be found in 2,500 cigarettes. That’s almost seven cigarettes per day.

Smog is dangerous because of dust particles called PM10 and PM2.5, which harm the cardiovascular system and increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. The particles travel through the bloodstream to the kidneys, liver, brain and tissues, all within a minute. The smallest of them (PM2.5 and smaller) can penetrate the placenta, making asthma four times more likely for the fetus.

Related: Youth-led groups fight against air pollution in China

Most of the air pollution comes from households. According to the Institute for Structural Research almost 20 percent of households in Poland are touched by fuel poverty, and without enough money for new stoves and high quality fuel, they warm their houses with low quality coal or even plastic or rubber. Power stations only produce 13 percent of total pollution.

According to Piotr Kolomycki, representative of Civic Platform, the country’s democratic party, and President of the Young Democrats Association in Warsaw, 75 percent of financial aid for the purchase of new stoves and replacement of old ones was some time ago introduced in Warsaw.

Young politicians have also suggested education for adults and children, as children will be decision-makers in the near future and their elders provide an example to others. They have to be aware of the dangers of using low quality fuels. Still, many who are aware of the danger simply cannot afford better fuel or a new stove.

“It is an investment for the future,” said Milosz Motyka, representative of the Polish People’s Party and president of the Young Populars’ Forum. “Just in Malopolska, costs connected with higher incidence rate, absence at work, and with hospitalization connected with air pollutions caused diseases exceed 3 billion PLN annually, which means a cost of over $102 billion per year all across the country.”

Although electricity generation is not the biggest force behind air pollution, replacing some coal fired power plants (which produce 90 percent of electricity) with green energy like wind farms, solar panels or nuclear power plants would improve air quality.

 Gubalowka Mountain covered with smog in 2015. Credit:  Agencja Gazeta

Gubalowka Mountain covered with smog in 2015. Credit: Agencja Gazeta

Poland is trying to introduce a new nuclear program, with plans to construct nuclear power plants with up to three gigawatts of power. That is expected to cover between 15 to 20 percent of the power consumption in Poland.

According to the latest surveys conducted by ASM Centrum Badań i Analiz Rynku on request of the Ministry of Energy, more than 60 percent of Poles are in favor of nuclear power. Although the survey didn’t separate participants by age, previous polls showed that people under 29 years old had the highest support rates for such policies. This could be because youth are better educated and more familiar with green energy, so they are not afraid of nuclear power.

Although their elders may remember nuclear accidents like Chernobyl, youth are aware that almost 500 nuclear power units are smattered across the world and the accident rate is extremely low, even compared to other power sources. Although an agreement has been reached, the Polish government is extremely divided and quarrelsome. Young representatives who will soon make changes in Poland have to unite.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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