Smog recently became a number one topic in Poland. Internet is full of information about smog alarms and yet another safety limits being exceeded. Of course many people already seeks someone to blame, so no wonder, that it become a hot political topic as well.
One could get a feeling that smog in Polish cities appeared suddenly and completely unexpected. Meanwhile this is yet another emanation of the Polish lack of, specifically understood, hygiene. Just as 25 years was not sufficient to convince Poles that the landscape and public space is our common good, and Polish towns and villages are covered with extremelly ugly advertising placed by everyone without any consent to others (because who will ban me from doing what I please on my own land?), 25 years of freedom was not sufficient to create an understanding that we are all responsible for the quality of air we breathe. Because, of course, one can complain about poor public transport forcing people to use their cars or that city councils allow chaotic development of apartament blocks pretty much everywhere without ensuring ventilation to crowded city centres. But the trutch is that more than factories and power plants, that are fitted with state of the art filters (environmental protection in the industry was one of the first field in which Poland could count on Western funds after collapse of communism), it’s Poles themselves who pollute air around them. And it will continue to be so, as long as coal burning boilers in Polish houses will still serve as domestic incineration plants.
Thanks to Polish governments, that for decades pump money into unprofitable coal mines, coal is still one of the cheapest heating fuels in Poland. It seems that it will stay like that for now, as current government fights windmills and other sources of renewable energy like Don Quichote, propably considering them to be yet another leftist-vegetarian conspiracy from the West that endangers patriotism-filled Polish coal, mined by our brave miners, the salt of this land. And if one heats his home with coal burning boiler, why not use it also to get rid of some rubbish by burning some old furniture, garden waste, tires or shoes in it? This is often shown as good thing: being independent and standing up to oppressive state that tries to tell us what we can do in our own home…
Few years ago I went to Poland with my partner for a road trip. For two weeks we drove our car through towns and villages, visiting friends and family all around the country. Travelling through some back roads during long November evenings, we have noticed that you can smell that you are approaching next town or village well before you can actually see its lights: so strong the stench from the chimney was. Soon both of us have developed sore throaths.
Near the end of the journey we shared this observation with one of relatives we were just visiting. Oh, how we were told for that: we were accused of looking down on our motherland, about how detached from the real life we became during our life abroad and that we are so full of ourselves, that even Polish air stinks to us. At this moment, the conversation was interrupted by the sound of the battered diesel engine – a 1980’s Mercedes drove into the yard, pulling a trailer full of old furniture. At this moment the loudest guy apologized, saying that he has to go, as this furniture has to be unloaded, chopped and stored to be used as firewood.
I don’t think this text could be ended with better commentary than that.
Photo: Zygmunt Put, CC 2.0 via Wikipedia