Belchatow

With the next round of international climate negotiations kicking off in Warsaw this week, I was reminded of my time in Poland when I captured this photograph of Belchatow in May 2011. That was the year I was flown to London to judge a photographic award and booked a flight to Poland to make the journey a little more memorable.

It was a strange trip. I helped award a photographer who's work dealt with the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster. I visited Auschwitz and found myself alone for several hours into the evening making photographs after the gates had closed, a very eerie experience to say the least. I befriended a young couple hitch-hiking over the Tatra mountains on the Poland-Slovakia boarder and ended up staying with their family for 3 nights in a small village in Eastern Slovakia. Stanislav helped me gain access to a few nearby gypsy communities. One of these communities was living in two derelict brick buildings in an abandoned copper mine. One of these buildings was being undermined by a sink hole and was near collapse. Fifty or so filthy children, some with deformities, clothed in rags or nothing at all played in or nearby a rubbish pile of smouldering plastics. A destitute hovel beyond belief, I consider myself reasonably well travelled and I've seen some desperate communities, nothing compared to this. While I stood wondering how so few adults could produce so many children I felt for the safety for the lovely young Ewelina back at the car. Meanwhile Stanislav and I proceeded to wander about trying all we could to keep calm in what was a menacing atmosphere. Me, too anxious to pull out my cameras to take photographs. 

Perhaps I was after some light relief, something positive by the time I arrived back in Poland and proceeded to Belchatow. Could this be why this image looks so lovely and hopeful and picturesque. But make no mistake this is Europe's largest single producer of carbon emissions, the largest coal fired power station in Europe, one of the largest in the world. It emits an impressive 30 million tons of CO2 a year. It burns lignite (brown coal), the most polluting type of coal, the same coal mined and burnt at Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang power plants in the Latrobe valley just east of Melbourne. They are all of the same, they emit a plethora of carcinogens and carbon, causing cancers and climate change. Spare a thought for the families who live down wind from one of these beasts. Ask them what ailments they suffer from. You'll get the picture.