Tag Archives: corporate capture

Coaland Doesn’t Represent the Polish People

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?

COP19 Reception Entertainment
COP19 Reception Entertainment
COP Co-opted
COP Co-opted

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.

Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.
Fossil Funded= Fundamentally wrong.

Justice is Not Just a Word: It’s Life.

Last night, I had a dream that I went to the conference center where COP19 is taking place this year in Warsaw, Poland and they let me in without checking my credentials. I floated through security after getting my bag checked. I was able to go to all of the meetings I wanted to go to, participate in a solidarity action for the Philippines, and get a lot of meaningful work done with the women and gender caucus… but that was just a dream.

In reality: climate change induced Typhoon Haiyan has torn the Philippines apart, the negotiations are opening with false promises, and the entire conference being hosted to halt climate change is being sponsored by coal. Am I living a nightmare instead?

It’s a very odd thing to be sitting in my hostel, working on homework and blog posts while the rest of my friends, it seems, are inside of the National Stadium in Warsaw watching the COP open. Due to what the convention center is claiming as a limit in capacity, only 9,000 people were allowed into the negotiating venue this year. These cut backs have severely limited many delegations, especially from civil society. This has left many people wondering: is the UN trying to limit the voices of civil society as we head towards a 2015 deal in Paris?

My own delegation started off with a little over a dozen people planning on attending the conference. As the accreditation situation became more and more restricted, we saw one member at a time drop, drop, drop from our delegation. Yesterday, my delegation (who is now a group of 8 people; with only 4 of us going in each week), heard the news that the Polish government refused visas to 50 accredited people from Nigeria. Why? (Alleged) reasons varied from “accreditation was not reason enough to enter the country” to “no proof of sufficient funds to leave the country after the conference ends”. This is very upsetting to me personally for the blatant racism, classism, and overall injustice involved in why they didn’t receive visas. Why is Poland trying to keep more participants from African countries out? Where is the justice in keeping people from countries who are not among the top polluters out of the conference, hell- out of the host country?!

As long and tiring as the process of COP is, I’m glad that myself and other people who are just that- people– are still attending the conference to remind our negotiators that climate change is a matter of life or death. It seems, however, that the powers that be don’t want those of us who are most affected by climate change (women, youth, developing countries) to speak out and to remind negotiators that we are human not just a list of technical terms and statistics.

But we won’t be silent. We’re going to fight to be heard. Justice will be had.

More than ever, we need to make it obvious that we aren’t going to stand for corrupt governments driving the negotiations away from progress. We need to make it know that we are not okay with the intermingling between our environmental agencies and governments with the fossil fuel industry (cough- coal funded COP19- cough). We need to make it known that prejudice should not and cannot be a reason why people are kept from sharing their experiences, knowledge, and opinions at the international level.

Don’t just make a wish- let’s make it happen.

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