Saturday, 17 December 2016


For the first time in nearly ten years of blogging, of over 2,400 posts, I'm writing about air quality in Warsaw. On Thursday, there was a smog alert for the city; to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home, public transport was made free-of-charge for the day. The cause was high atmospheric pressure coupled with light wind; a temperature inversion in which air closest to the ground was trapped by a layer of warmer air pressing down on it.

Below: view from the office, Friday 16 December. The sky is cloudless, visibility is poor due to particulates in the air, which will neither rise into the heavens nor blow away in the wind. Look at the low contrast on that distant chimney stack at Kawęcznyn (and compare with pic here).

Below: Tuesday 13 December, view from W-wa Dawidy station's new 'up' platform, looking across the fields to the Siekierki power station in the distance. Remember the words of Beata Szydło on her campaign trail last year: "The future of Polish power generation is coal."

The smog comes from fossil fuels being burned at ground level, the smoke from which cannot dissipate into the higher atmosphere, being pressed down by a layer of warm air. What's to blame? Cars, power stations - but to an even greater extent the crap that people in the suburbs burn to heat their houses. Of all Warsaw districts, the most polluted in this smoggy period was leafy Wawer. Here, old detached houses are the main villain, out-polluting everything else.

Same out here in Jeziorki; I step outside, and the smell of smoke fills the air. The indigenous people are heating their houses by burning coal, rubbish, old copies of Gnash Dziennik, linoleum, mouldy rolls of wallpaper from the summer house - anything vaguely combustible that's been stored over the summer with the boiler in mind. I come back from my walk and my coat stinks like I've spent the night in a London pub before the smoking ban.

While the newer houses in Jeziorki are heated with gas (tak źle, tak niedobrze) or bunker fuel, old habits of Warsaw's pre-suburbanites die hard. At least rubber tyres are no longer being burnt, and the acrid smell of burning plastic waste is a rarity. But notice on both photos above, and below, the smoke is not rising. It comes up out of the chimney, to fall back down to ground level thanks to the temperature inversion. Below: photo taken in Jeziorki this morning, 17 December.

The City of Warsaw's offer to let people come into town on Thursday by free public transport did not really work. Who cares about saving 15zł on a dobster* when you can afford to drive a 150,000zł black four-wheel drive with darkened rear windows? "I've got a great big black SUV, I've spent loadsamoney on it, and I intend to use it to drag myself a few kilometres to my city-centre office. So people can see me drive by and be in awe of me. Smog? Not me mister. Not my problem." Below: midday on Thursday 15 December, when we should all be travelling to town on free public transport.

Below: an example of egregious car use by a driver who must know the exhaust is shot. I snapped this miscreant in Wrocław in September. Cars like this should be taken off the road and not allowed back on until the issue is fixed and a strict test passed.

Worth mentioning that Paris, a capital city with a far greater smog problem than Warsaw, lies in a country where 75% of power comes from nuclear (the highest percentage in the world), where dziady don't burn crap to heat their houses, where far more commuters use public transport, and where small-capacity motorbikes and scooters are commonplace. But it's bigger than Warsaw, so those cars are an environmental problem. Warsaw must tame the motorcar (especially the short-distance, one-per-car commuter) before the things get as bad as in Paris.

In my grey-jumper'd childhood in West London, I remember the signs on lampposts reminding residents of the Clean Air Act 1956, introduced in the wake of the Great Smog of London in 1952, which killed thousands of people. The law, revised in 1968 into more comprehensive air pollution prevention measures, made it illegal to burn wood or coal, or anything else other than smokeless fuel such as coke.

I wrote this two and half years ago, in April 2014:
London was hit by some serious air pollution at the beginning of this month, with warnings on TV not to conduct strenuous exercise outdoors, and to keep vulnerable groups of people inside. 
This article on suggests that 4,000 Londoners a year die from air pollution, and yet politicians are afraid to tackle the issue. Here's a highlight... 
"Across the UK, more than one in 20 deaths each year are now caused in part by air pollution. That's almost 30,000 people whose deaths could be avoided. But while politicians queue up to warn about the dangers of sugar and passive smoking to children, very few are willing to say anything about the deaths our addiction to cars has caused." 
In London, no doubt here in Warsaw too, air quality will get worse before it gets better. In the meantime, don't drive if you really don't have to.
As I predicted.

Polish citizens evidently don't take to the 'nudge' theory of policy making; more stringent measures need to be taken to avoid smoggy days by banning the burning of anything other than high-grade coal or coke (if at all!) and doing what the Parisians do - only let half of the cars drive into town on smoggy days - based on odd- or even number plates. And this government needs to invest more heavily on wind and solar power. I tyle, i już. I may be an economic and social liberal, but on matters environmental, I am illiberal.

*Dobster = bilet dobowy = 24-hour public transport ticket.

This time last year:
Snow in December: A memory or figment of my imagination?

This three years ago:
A muddy walk along ul. Karczunkowska

This five years ago:
Ul. Trombity - a step closer to dry feet?
[Asphalt yes, but still no pavement]

This time six years ago:
Matters of style

This time seven years ago:
Real winter hits Warsaw

This time eight years ago:
This is not Mazowsze, no?

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