In Poland, carbon dioxide is the second, just after steam, greenhouse gas, ie the one that hinders the escape of thermal energy into space. It accounts for about 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. However, in opposition to the aforementioned, it is a poison. Maybe not very strong, because in small concentrations it is not poisonous, but in higher doses it is harmful to health, and in extreme cases deadly, because its action causes the formation of hypercapnia (including difficulty breathing, dyspnea).
The so-called. negative emissions, ie the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere compensates for some 10% of Polish emissions. Would it be possible to increase such compensation? Yes, e.g. through afforestation policies. As far as the percentage of afforestation is concerned, Poland is poor compared to other European countries (our forest cover was 31% for 2016, while in the same year forest cover was 33%, Spain and Portugal 37% and 35% respectively, and e.g. Belorussia up to 42%).
Despite all the advantages of afforestation, it is unfortunately only the treatment of symptoms, not counteracting the „disease”, which is the continuous introduction of new coal into the carbon cycle. I am thinking of burning fossil fuels, especially hard coal. In Poland hard coal deposits are still being exploited and the mining ethos is considered to be of particular importance. It blocks changes in the energy sector. During discussions on climate change, even in scientific environments, one can come across opinions that emission charges, guidelines for RES, are mechanisms that limit the sovereignty of nation states. Even the very phenomenon of global warming is questioned. Nothing could be more wrong, the free market will always provide us with fuel, often cheaper and of better quality than sulphated Polish coal, often extracted from uneconomical depths and in life threatening conditions. Economic analyzes show that the contribution of mines to Polish GDP is negative. Millions of zlotys are allocated annually to maintain coal mining.
According to the data of the Polish Geological Institute, Poland does not stand by coal, as it is used to say. Calculating mathematically, the resources of coal would be enough for over 800 years, however, realizing that there is no sense in extracting small amounts of coal from the depths in kilometers, the adequateness of operational resources was counted, i.e. those that accounted for the losses incurred during extraction. This sufficiency is 40-50 years, and if you use all your undeveloped resources, it is up to 100 years. Naturally, all counted assuming that the demand remains at the current level. Speaking colloquially, it’s not so rosy. And yet we should also mention the huge import of coal from abroad, including Russia, according to data from Business Insider Polska – 13.47 million tonnes. Polish mines extracted approximately 63 million tonnes in 2018.
Why do we buy more and more coal from abroad? Because it is so economically. In order to create an opencast mine in Russia, Australia or the USA, it is enough to take off a relatively thin layer of soil, introduce excavators and extracting it ready. And with us, we’re kicking a kilometer down, we’re introducing complicated equipment, and what do we have? Average productivity of 700 tons per employee, while in the worst mines in the US it is 2,500 tons. There is a difference, right?
Earlier, I mentioned the sulphate of Polish coal. In the simplest terms, it is about its pollution with many sulfur compounds. The sulphate of Polish coal in domestic sales is almost twice as much as Russian coal. Ash looks the same, almost twice as many ashes are left on Polish coal.
Unfortunately, also the geological environment does not facilitate operation. Once in Poland, they were fed at depths of 200-500 m, now some 800 to 1300 m, and the depths will continue to grow. Of course, with the depth increases the risk associated with methane explosions, the temperature increases, at a depth of 1 km is about 40 degrees C, and seismic hazards, such as rock bursts. Coal deposits in Poland are deep, steep, cut by numerous faults, which does not make the extraction easier, and naturally also raises costs, and makes it difficult or impossible to mechanize. In countries based on opencast mining, the seams are usually gently sloped, a little over 200 m underground. This arrangement of the seams affects their greater availability – you do not need to build shafts, because you can simply use the railway.
The European Union has a climate protection policy. We must take into account the fact that greenhouse gas emission allowances prices are not likely to decrease, on the contrary, they will continue to grow. Many people will ask what to do? We’ve always heated houses with coal, now what? Now we have to introduce as many renewable energy sources (RES) as possible in every possible form: photothermal and photovoltaic panels, wind power plants with vertical axes, biogas plants at sewage treatment plants, municipal waste landfills or large food plants. Often it is enough to better insulate your home, replace windows, make a roof well, with insulation … .. And of course, nuclear power plants or cogeneration plants. We really have something to choose from. Let us not believe in superstition, only in science.
Michał Paweł Bijata is a student at the University of Warsaw, Inter-faculty Studies in Environmental Protection at the University Center for Environmental Research and Sustainable Development.