The Pope's Message and Poland: The Irresistible Force Means the Immovable Object?

The Pope's new encyclical "Laudato Si" contains a unmistakable repudiation of Polish energy policy devoted to long-term reliance on coal as a major source of electricity and heat in the country.[1]  The reference to reliance on coal could not be more explicit: ""We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay."



The irony of this message is that Poland is at once the most devout Catholic nation and the most reliant on coal for energy. 

This new theological mandate to change the Polish system comes in the wake of many major economic and technological pressures in the same direction.  The huge Norwegian investment fund just announced an end to investment in coal-based assets. The large German utility companies have suffered enormous losses in the operation of their coal-fired plants and are divesting them. Virtually all of the international development assistance funds (the World Bank, EBRD, etc.) have suspended investment in new coal-based projects. China has stopped construction of new coal-fired plants and is now the world leader in new investment in renewable energy. The cost of burning coal in Europe is expected to sky-rocket as the carbon emission prices grow in 2020 and beyond. Except for Poland, the construction of new coal-fired power plants has virtually stopped throughout the world.

New studies are quite unequivocal on the health damage caused by coal emissions in Poland. We have the biggest problem in Europe in this regard. A majority of the ten largest polluting facilities in Europe are also located in Poland. Thousands of children are injured or even die every year because of this situation.

Simultaneously, the public-owned coal mines in Poland are bankrupt and only held up by the use of taxpayers' money. This itself is illegal under EU law and will be stopped by the European Commission in the near future.  Polish coal is only 50% of what it was in 1990 and is inevitably going to be less and less.

Up to now, the Polish Government and the major political parties have resisted all of the economic, technological, and legal pressure and tried to keep doing "business as usual." No serious person privately believes that this is a sustainable course or winning strategy, but it has been the predominate political response.   

But now, as the pro-Catholic party, Law and Justice, rises in the Polish polls, winning the Presidency and looking good for the Parliamentary elections, a new factor weighs in. How will the devout Catholics of Law and Justice and their voters react to this Encyclical?  A realistic dialogue about transitioning from coal to other energy would seem to be the minimum response. The Pope recognized that the shift away from coal would have to be "progressive," not immediate.  But apparently the need to make the transition is now a religious duty as well as a smart policy.

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[1] Excerpts of Laudato Si: "Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. SOUTHERN AFRICAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE, Pastoral Statement on the Environmental Crisis (5 September 1999). All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.

"There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

"If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” JOHN PAUL II, Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 15: AAS 82 (1990), 156 [also condemning the burning of fossil fuels due to its ecological and health effects].

"We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay."




NOTE: The MPs from PiS are consistently upset at the potential noise levels from windmills that maybe affect ten thousand people in minor ways in all of Poland. Millions of Poles are sick from air pollution from coal and thousands actually die every year. Where are the PiS Christians on this issue? I think I know where Jesus would be......

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