Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pick Points from Poland

Well, I’m back in Poland after a quick trip to Stavanger, where the price of things was notably different. I suppose that comes with some of the rig crews coming to town to spend some of their income. This is just going to be an assembly of small thoughts, given that the day job requires a fair amount of preparation each evening for the meetings the following day – plus some of the discussions are, naturally, not something I can write about.

One of the first things that our Norwegian host said as we walked over for the first lunch was to point out the irony that Norway, the great oil and gas producer, only makes one car – and it is the electric Buddy . The price seems to be in the $30,000 range – though it is hard to assess what it might be elsewhere given (as noted above) the high prices in Norway, and that I got charged 20% commission on changing my money at the Spar Bank in the airport (confusing my estimate of the real rate of exchange). You should be able to go 50 to 75 miles between charges, at speeds of up to 50 mph.

Both in Norway and Poland I was impressed with the amount of granite that is now being used in the city centers for roads and pedestrian walkways (in Poland in places this just means removing the overlying asphalt). It should be a local industry given the local rock in both countries – yet the crates waiting to be unloaded in Stavanger had Chinese routing labels. Both countries also encourage bicycles with wide cycle paths as part of the walk way – but informative signs for illiterate (in the local language) tourists might have helped those of us who initially walked in the wrong part of the street.

I am currently in Wroclaw and it is after dinner, so I am a little too lazy to check the number, but our host at dinner mentioned that the town will see an influx of 140,000 students next week as the new term begins. They will bring with them, or soon buy, some 30,000 vehicles. Apart from other, social benefits, there are simple financial reasons to do so. Living out of the heart of down town can reduce living costs by about two-thirds, and so the expense of the car can be written off in just a few months, faster if you provide chauffeur service to a couple of like-minded friends, who can also share the accommodation.

Now this doesn’t disparage the local public trams, electrically powered, that are still very popular, and have both old and new versions running very regularly – but in the rush hour these are packed. (We actually walked the 25-minute route that my colleague followed every day he was an undergraduate from the dorm to the campus – it is now a strange mixture of contrasts with many of the old buildings restored and repainted, or replaced with modern construction. Only the odd building remains as it was during Soviet times – still dirty and dilapidated. (I need to dig out my slides from back then, when I first came here).

The papers and talk shows remain focused on the tragedy in the coal mine that happened last week with some commentators talking about changing to purchase of cheaper Chinese coal, rather than using the more expensive (since it is deeper) Polish coal. Our discussion at dinner went through that topic in about two sentences, since the Chinese need most of their own, and Poland has to (for a variety of reasons) have some reliable domestic energy resource, and they have concluded that coal is (for the next generation) pretty much it.

A minor note of amusement, since it getting rather late here, the stories that I hear from locals about what the new Japanese Prime Minister actually said about climate change and the new Japanese Government response don’t seem to equate to the reports in the western press, but the conversations are very second hand this falls more under the heading of general gossip.



  1. Great perks with the Buddy: no road taxes or tolls, free in-city parking, and free use of the bus lanes! These tiny cars make more sense in the narrow streets of a European town or city than they do in North America.

  2. And since you're pretty busy this week and out of the country, I wanted to mention that the US Federal Appeals Court has ruled that states can sue utility companies over their GHG emissions. Will this fuel some more general gossip?

  3. Since those that argue against the impact of greenhouse gases seem to be looking for a court fight where scientific facts can be compared (and remember that in many States it was warmer in 1932 than now) this may be one of those situations where both sides may thirst for battle and one may discover that they should be more careful over what they wish for. While no-one can predict the result, remember that when An Inconvenient Truth was taken to court in London a number of facts were found to be incorrect - which sort of gets glossed over in the USA.