The open cast mines around here are massive and seem to go on an on for miles. I had never seen an open mine before I came here but they are the most ugly looking landscapes. It's difficult to appreciate the size of one unless you go right into it and stand in the middle gazing up at the sides where men have cut away at the earth. Last week I didn't know what to expect when we went into the mine next to our camp but once I was in there I was absolutely speechless - well that had a lot to do with being out of breath since I am not exactly your most athletic blogger! - but I just couldn't believe the amount of trouble that some humans have gone to in order to get this terrible stuff out of the ground!
The machines they use to do it are gigantic things that churn up the ground at the front and spit all of the coal out of the back. They look like extraterrestrial monsters that have come here to destroy the planet and at night they are all lit up like spaceships. Yet they are not alien - humans create them and control them. These monsters provide over 90 percent of Poland's energy. They are the reason why most Polish people are able to switch on their lights at night - like so many other countries which are very dependent on this dirty fuel. These monsters are working for us.
Before the coal mine workers appeared at the site where we painting "STOP" last week, with chalk powder, I half expected to see the Orcs (Lord of the Rings) to emerge from fire filled tunnels below the mine or to find the Skeksis (Dark Crystal) coming towards me to drain me of my life essence! The landscape of the mine is really that evil looking. Unfortunately though - I wasn't just vividly engrossed in a Tolkien book or standing in a Jim Henson museum. This mine right next to our camp is shockingly real and the only demon in it is the coal itself.
Since the industrial revolution - the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 40 percent. Coal combustion is responsible for 72 percent of carbon dioxide emissions coming from power generation and 41 percent from all fossil fuels. Coal is the most dangerous climate changing villain on the planet and climate change is the most serious humanitarian, economic and environmental challenge we are now facing. If worldwide plans to build new coal burning plants go ahead the carbon dioxide emissions from coal will rise by 60 percent. This is absolutely insane when we are desperately trying to avoid catastrophic global warming.
Coal powered the Industrial Revolution because that was the best fuel at the time. But we have much better sources of energy now that wont annihilate important ecosystems such as coral reefs and rainforests. Clean energy like solar and wind - together with greater energy efficiency - wont put billions of people at risk from water shortage, famine. disease or economic hardship like the unabated use of fossil fuels will.
So why are we still living in the past? Why are we still burning this ridiculously harmful stuff? I keep asking myself this question again and again and again. Why?
There is no other reason I can think of other than laziness, procrastination and an unwillingness to change. While energy giants like E.ON and Vattenfall are raking in profits from coal thanks to government who don't care enough to stop them - the rest of the world is paying the price.
The report that we have just released calculates that the global society paid 360 billion euros for the use of this fuel in 2007 alone. And even this is an underestimation as it doesn't account for all the damages caused by coal.
On the train from Warsaw yesterday - I saw lots of men in suits heading for Poznan. Some of them are probably attending the climate talks starting on Monday. I wanted to give them all a copy of our report because I doubt they are aware of just how much coal is costing us (but handing out copies of Greenpeace reports randomly on a train in Poland is perhaps not the best way to campaign! :-) And if they have any brain cells at all - they should all know by now what is needed to combat climate chaos - I just hope they have the guts to put a good plan on the table.
We need a total energy revolution if we are going to have a chance avoiding the worst changes that climate chaos will bring. Are these politicians ready to get serious or are they willing to tell their children and their grandchildren that they are the ones to blame for a global meltdown?
Burning coal is like a ticking time bomb - if we're worried about it going off - we need to quit playing with it.