Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Globe Flashback: Polish Pollution

It's no joke:

"Gray smog envelops Poland, setting off health concerns" by Joanna Berendt New York Times  January 14, 2017

WARSAW — After hearing news recently that the air was far from fresh, that in fact record-high smog was enveloping the entire nation, 21-year-old Michal Czekala, whose job is chopping down trees, decided to take a week off work.

Maybe it is after all.

An eerie gray mist with a pervasive odor of fumes wreathed Warsaw and dozens of other Polish cities, bringing a global problem more associated with Beijing and New Delhi into the heart of Europe. Warsaw city officials reacted by making all public transportation free last Monday, in an attempt to keep cars off the roads and warned residents to stay indoors unless necessary. Pollution levels eventually dropped off toward the end of the week.

The Indians got out and protested, as did the Poles.

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Polish women protest new abortion restrictions

At least they are talking

The surge in pollution came shortly after a report by the World Health Organization said that 33 of the European Union’s 50 most polluted cities are in Poland, which relies heavily on its cherished national coal industry and bluntly refuses to invest in renewable energy sources that might supplant coal, known here as black gold.

The issue, though, is not just cars and coal. Warsaw’s spike in air pollution was driven largely by a severe cold snap that forced thousands of private households, especially the most destitute ones, to crank up poor-quality heaters that burn things like coal and garbage to beat back the winter chill.

Global warm.... never mind.

The situation got out of hand in the first week of January after a Siberian blast poured into the region and temperatures dropped below zero degrees. People overworked their heaters, and an absence of wind caused the smog to squat gloomily over the capital, but this may well understate the problem. Ilona Jedrasik from ClientEarth, a nonprofit environmental law organization, said some air pollution monitors in the region simply stopped working because of the high concentration of pollutants.

High smog levels, Warsaw authorities warned, could be especially dangerous for children, older residents, pregnant women, and people with existing health issues.

How will war with Russia help?

The health consequences of such a high level of pollutants in the air can be severe, including failure of the respiratory and circulatory system, heart attacks, and strokes. In fact, the European Environment Agency estimated last year that bad air was responsible for almost 45,000 premature deaths a year in Poland.

Magdalena Urban, a 25-year-old marketing specialist in Warsaw, said Monday evening that she had been suffering from a headache since the day before.

“It hurts around the temples, and I’m constantly feeling nauseated,” Urban said as she went grocery shopping in Zabki, a town just outside the capital. “I’m going out shopping because I don’t know what else to do. This has all been so sudden.”

Beata Szydlo, the prime minister, said Monday that her government was going to work on ways of reducing a problem that “is so very burdensome for the Polish citizens,” though she did not provide any specifics.

Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill caused controversy at the beginning of the year — before the pollution levels radically increased — when he called the smog “a theoretical problem” and said that “there are no reasons for panic,” and besides, “our lifestyle is much more damaging.”

“Someone who breathes in air smoking a cigarette, with fumes and everything that comes with it, is in a position in which complaining about poor air quality is not credible at all,” Radziwill told a private radio station, Tok FM.

However, according to estimates by Warsaw Without Smog, an environmental group, residents of the capital inhale the equivalent of a thousand cigarettes a year. It is even worse in the towns on the outskirts of Warsaw, where people breathe in an equivalent of up to 2,400 cigarettes a year, or 6½ a day.

Agnieszka Drozd, an activist with another environmental organization, Warsaw Smog Alarm, said that “no one is exempt from this damage.”

“Think of your children smoking a couple of cigarettes a day,” she said. “It’s that bad.”

Wh(cough)at?

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Maybe the pipeline from Israel can help clear up things:

"For Israel, energy boom could make friends out of enemies" by Peter Baker New York Times   January 14, 2017

ABOARD THE ATWOOD ADVANTAGE — In the ship’s control room, facing four video screens, a driller from Mississippi in dark shades and a black baseball cap with a skull on it held what could be the future of Israel in his hands.

The massive drill he controlled extended down 11,345 feet, more than 2 miles below the surface of a calm Mediterranean Sea, as it plunged deeper and deeper into one of the biggest natural gas fields discovered in the world in recent years.

Once a barren energy island in a part of the planet otherwise awash in resources, Israel is, after years of delay, finally pushing ahead with an ambitious strategy to tap offshore reserves that could transform its economy and, it hopes, its place in a historically hostile region.

If all goes according to plan, Israel will not only become largely energy-independent, it will also supply neighbors that will have new reason to be friends.

There is no guarantee that all will go according to plan, of course. Israel struggled for years to develop regulations to manage its newfound wealth. The international energy firms that Israel is courting have other options in an evolving global market. And the politics of a new era, as President-elect Donald Trump encourages assertive Israeli action in Jerusalem and the West Bank, could kindle fresh conflicts with Arab neighbors that make energy partnerships problematic.

But optimists see cause for confidence as once-stalled drilling in the Mediterranean resumes, additional tenders are issued and new customers sign up — or at least talk about it. The government in Jerusalem envisions building pipelines that could transport Israeli gas as far away as Europe.

“Suddenly we are an energy player,” Yuval Steinitz, the energy minister, said as he toured the Atwood Advantage a few weeks ago.

The potential for enhancing Israel’s relations with its neighbors is alluring. Steinitz credited energy for a recent reconciliation with Turkey. This development came years after diplomatic relations had broken down over a violent confrontation at sea that resulted in the deaths of 10 Turkish activists who were trying to break through Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“We were in a very negative course with the Turks,” Steinitz said. “Two or three years ago, some in Israel even thought we might have armed conflict. Now we have opened relations with one of the strongest countries in the Middle East. So we already see diplomatic benefits.”

Turkey has not agreed to an energy deal, but Jordan has. In September, Jordan signed an agreement to buy $10 billion in natural gas over the next 15 years, which would supply 40 percent of its electricity.

Israel also has its eye on Egypt, and officials are contemplating a pipeline to Cyprus, Greece, and eventually Italy to access European markets. To bring in more international energy firms, it has just put 24 blocks in the Mediterranean up for tender, with bids due in April.

“We are in the middle of a revolution,” said Nati Birenboim, an owner of the Tamuz Group, a consulting firm advising one company in the current tender. “If we were talking 10 years ago, 15 years ago, and I said Israel would find a big amount of energy and be almost totally independent when it comes to energy, you would think that I am crazy. We were the country of milk and honey but when it came to oil, we left it to our neighbors.”

Still, Birenboim cautioned against excessive exuberance about the potential for change with Israel’s neighbors. Egypt, he noted, has its own possible offshore reserves. “It’s not going to be a game changer” with Cairo, he said. And Turkey seems to be turning to Russia.

Beyond the geopolitics are market complications. With natural gas resources more abundant globally and prices falling, Israel may find it difficult to attract the international investment it seeks to take its fledgling energy sector to the next level.

BDS effect?

“Investors are not beating down the doors of any country as they did in the last decade, and they have to be competitive to attract investment because companies are going to be very selective in this new world of lower prices and oversupply,” said Daniel H. Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit, an energy consulting firm in Washington.

Israel has been looking for energy since the 1950s, but the breakthrough came in 2010 with the discovery of fields called Leviathan and Tamar, said to hold 25 trillion to 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A partnership led by Noble Energy, a Houston-based company, and the Delek Group, an Israeli firm, has developed wells in Tamar; the first supplies reached domestic markets in 2013.

Israeli gas now produces more than half the country’s electricity and has bolstered its economy. Leo Leiderman, chief economic adviser for Bank Hapoalim, estimated that along with the broader decline in energy prices, the influx of natural gas translated to an additional 2 percent of gross domestic product. And that is with only a part of the reserves being tapped.

Leviathan, which is more than twice the size of Tamar, has yet to be developed. Exploration stalled because of disputes over how the government should regulate the potential boom. Critics like Shelly Yachimovich, a Labor leader in Parliament, complained that corporate “pigs” would profit off resources that belonged to the Israeli people. The Noble partnership resisted what it called changing the rules after it took the risks and invested considerable money in the project.

A government committee led by Eytan Sheshinski, an economics professor, put forward a new scheme to tax profits after exploration and development costs were recovered. But even after that was resolved, antitrust authorities determined that the companies represented a cartel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government responded with a new regulatory plan, only to have it struck down in court. A new regulation framework was finally put in place last year, clearing the way for renewed exploration in the fall.

The well is to begin pumping gas soon, and the Atwood Advantage plans to move on to another field by the end of next month.

“For me, it’s like a dream, because one year ago everybody thought it was entirely impossible that Israel would be able to resume drilling,” said Steinitz, the energy minister. “And now it’s taking place. It’s happening.”

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No other claims to it?