Poland is a country known for it’s coal. But what people don’t talk much about is that not all of the people in Poland are supportive of these energy projects. It was discussed at the Conference of Youth/ Central and Eastern European Power Shift that a common misconception is that all Polish people are wary of having coal-fired power plants shut down because it is a large source of economic stability for the country. However, according to two residents of Poland that I’ve spoken with, the problem is not so much that people do not want to change, rather the conceptualization of what change looks like is more difficult to understand.
On Monday evening, Polish Independence day, the COP had their opening reception at the University of Warsaw’s Library (Biblioteka Uniwersytecka w Warszawie). As in the tradition of over the top UN gatherings, the entire library was being lit by an eerie green light, servers were walking around with glasses of wine and juices, and ours d’ouevres were being offered by the tray fill. Sponsored mainly by LOTOS, a Polish fossil fuel company, there was a sense of sad irony and corporate capture among many of the youth that I spoke to. Why is the COP accepting money from the very industry that is fueling (pun intended) the problem?
I had the pleasure of meeting a young Polish energy engineering student at the event who was very inquisitive about the COP process who I will call L. in this post. L. told me that he thought since it seems that the coal industry and the issues covered at the COP are related that he thought it best to get himself informed. I asked him what energy source he saw himself doing engineering for in the future and he seemed a bit sheepish as he started with the statement “well, you see… there is really only one source of energy in Poland. It is awkward.” We discussed how coal controls the government in Poland (very similar to how oil controls politics in the United States). He informed me that it seems impossible to move away from coal while the individual economic interests of those in power is being supported by coal.
As we delved deeper into our conversation, I asked him what he thought would start a transition from coal to cleaner energy and he said that he didn’t know. I tried to give him examples of times when we’ve successfully shut down coal plants in the U.S. and simultaneously started to transition toward more renewable energy and he didn’t think that it was plausible in Poland. He maintained that there is not enough interest and buy in behind starting to have more renewable energy. Children don’t know, he said, about other forms of energy. There is nothing environmental in Polish education even at the high school level. It’s hard for people to grow up and see an alternative to the current system without knowing what else is out there. In addition, L. told me that something that the people of Poland do not know that they import most of the coal that they burn. For the Polish people, the coal industry is pushed as being a main source of employment, but this is not the case given that their resources come from elsewhere.
What’s worse is that, like many European countries, college is paid for (or in some cases mostly) paid for by the government by a sort of education credit system. My new friend, L., told me that the government gives a certain amount of extra credits for students who wanted to pursue careers in science and technology (also like the states), but with an even greater chance for extra credits and additional scholarship money if they studied engineering (specifically energy), which L. said was “awkward”.
It is awkward, I thought to myself, that coal has such a strong influence over society that the very people who could be empowered to make a change feel so helpless.
Things need to change in Warsaw, I think. And after Power Shift CEE, I think that the youth of Poland are well on their way to making that change.