Coal dependence darkens Poland’s skies

Poland is the second-largest coal producer and consumer in all of Europe and consequently one of the most polluted and polluting countries.

Ahead of the global climate talks in December 2009, nine photographers from the photo agency NOOR photographed climate stories from around the world. Their goal: to document some of the causes and consequences, from deforestation to changing sea levels, as well as the people whose lives and jobs are part of the carbon culture.

Poland has long relied on coal for its energy, using mostly antiquated equipment like this extractor at the Adamow field in Turek. The country uses coal for 94 percent of its energy needs, among the highest rates anywhere. Plans are to reduce that to 60 percent in 2030 via a nuclear plant, natural gas and wind and solar power. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
The Adamow mine in Turek pumps about 92 million cubic meters of water every year to help extract its brown coal. Of all fossil fuels, brown coal has the largest impact on climate change, in addition to the environmental impact of getting it out of the ground.

While gaps in climate science exist, leading some to question the degree of mankind’s impact as well as whether anything should be done, most governments as well as the science academies of the U.S. and other industrial nations agree that mankind is a significant factor and that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
Miners change shifts at a mine in Zabrze, Poland. Mining certainly poses risks, but it also provides 100,000 jobs in Poland. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
Miners at a site near Zabrze work 2,500 feet below ground. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
The Adamow mine in Turek has survived while others have been closed down in recent years. Poland has been reluctant to force the coal industry to invest billions of dollars to try to clean up smokestack emissions, fearful it would drive up electricity costs to consumers.

For more information on this project go to Consequences by NOOR Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
This waste pond is used by a coal-fired power plant near Konin, Poland.

Coal mining has wide-reaching effects on water resources. Tremendous volumes of water are required for mining operations. Often, land areas as well as rivers are drained to get coal out of the ground, and consequently whole bodies of water disappear.

When coal is excavated from deep underground, groundwater is pumped out to dry up the areas being mined. Removing vast amounts of water often drains water from an area beyond the immediate coal-mining environment. As a consequence, water tables are lowered, and ecosystems are damaged. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
A miner surfaces after a day's shift 2,500 feet below ground near Zabrze. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
The Belchatów power plant is the largest in Poland, supplying almost 20 percent of the nation’s energy. Each year its chimneys belch more than 31 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
These residents of Bytom pass near a power plant built in 1920, which was among the largest in Europe in the 1930s. Now used for a few months each year, it is slated to close down for good in 2015.

Share your thoughts about these slideshows and climate change. Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR
This miner works above ground at a site near Zabrze.

With reserves estimated to tap out by 2020, Poland has been moving away from coal. The number of active mines has dropped from 70 in 1989 to 31 in 2008. The work force has shrunk from 400,000 to some 100,000.

For more information on this project go to Consequences by NOOR Pep Bonet / Consequences by NOOR