As politicians haggle at a U.N. climate conference in Poland over ways to limit global warming, the industries and machines powering our modern world keep spewing their pollution into the air and water.
The fossil fuels extracted from beneath the Earth’s crust — coal, oil and gas — are transformed into the carbon dioxide that is now heating the planet faster than scientists had expected even a few years ago.
The devastating wildfires, droughts, floods and hurricanes of recent months and years are intensifying the urgency of the two-week conference in Katowice, which is due to end Friday.
But not far from the conference center, plumes of smoke rise from Europe’s largest lignite, or brown coal, power plant, in the central Polish town of Belchatow. Of the 50 most polluted cities in the European Union, 36 are in Poland.
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Elsewhere, from the U.S. to Japan and China, the coal plants, oil refineries and other installations needed to power factories and heat homes are playing their role in a warming Earth.
The negotiators at the international talks are also discussing financial support to poor countries, which are bearing the brunt of drought and flooding, which translate often into agricultural disaster and famine and are a factor behind greater migration.
The challenge of reducing emissions is made more difficult by the growing demand in the developing world for fuel as people there also seek to achieve the benefits and comforts of the industrialized world.
In Africa and Asia, which have become dumping grounds for the rich world’s waste, it is now common to see poor people scavenging for scraps of paper and other recyclable materials at garbage dumps, competing sometimes with crows or storks.
Fumes from cars are also playing their role in poisoning the air in many cities, from Jakarta and Katmandu to Moscow to Brussels.
Environmentalists in Katowice are warning that time is running out to prevent ecological disaster, a message also being taken up by artists.
In London, 24 large blocks of glacial ice from the waters surrounding Greenland have been placed in front of the Tate Modern and six at other city locations. Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson hopes his installation, called “Ice Watch” and launched Tuesday to coincide with the climate conference in Katowice, will impact people emotionally and inspire urgent public action.
The installation will be on show until the ice melts.