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GAZETA WYBORCZA

Choking In Pollution, Poland Says Coal Is Not A Problem

A woman wears a mask in Krakow earlier this month
A woman wears a mask in Krakow earlier this month
Dominika Wantuch

-Analysis-

WARSAW — For the Polish government, coal is nothing to worry about.

Sixteen Polish cities exceeded the annual limit of days with smog in the first two months of this year alone. And still, the government hasn't taken any steps to restrict poisonous coal dust or remove the fossil fuel from the market. Coal is not poisonous, says the Ministry of Energy.

European regulations stipulates that smog days shouldn't exceed 35 days a year. But the Polish cities of Kraków, Nowy Targ and Wodzisław Śląski have already crossed this limit.

Activists from the Podhale Smog Alarm Initiative wrote a letter in January to Prime Minister Beata Szydło: ""We ask you to hold a government session in Nowy Targ. Only in this way will ministers be able to understand how serious the problem of air pollution is in our country." Szydło did not come to the city.

The energy ministry did announce a plan to combat smog but experts say that the proposal won't change anything because it still allows the use of coal dust, slurry and coal flotation concentrate, which are responsible for nearly 70% of pollution in the air.

The Minister of Energy Krzysztof Tchórzewski repeated what Minister of Health Konstanty Radziwiłł had already claimed that coal does not kill.

Tchórzewski added that he does not think banning the sale of coal dust is necessary. This year was the first year that this list of cities exceeded the smog restrictions within 46 days. The European Commission filed a lawsuit against Poland for not meeting the European Union's air quality norms and for not taking steps to reach the target. Poland might have to dole out 4 billion Polish złotych ($982 million) for not complying with EU regulations.

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Green

Forest Networks? Revisiting The Science Of Trees And Funghi "Reaching Out"

A compelling story about how forest fungal networks communicate has garnered much public interest. Is any of it true?

Thomas Brail films the roots of a cut tree with his smartphone.

Arborist and conservationist Thomas Brail at a clearcutting near his hometown of Mazamet in the Tarn, France.

Melanie Jones, Jason Hoeksema, & Justine Karst

Over the past few years, a fascinating narrative about forests and fungi has captured the public imagination. It holds that the roots of neighboring trees can be connected by fungal filaments, forming massive underground networks that can span entire forests — a so-called wood-wide web. Through this web, the story goes, trees share carbon, water, and other nutrients, and even send chemical warnings of dangers such as insect attacks. The narrative — recounted in books, podcasts, TV series, documentaries, and news articles — has prompted some experts to rethink not only forest management but the relationships between self-interest and altruism in human society.

But is any of it true?

The three of us have studied forest fungi for our whole careers, and even we were surprised by some of the more extraordinary claims surfacing in the media about the wood-wide web. Thinking we had missed something, we thoroughly reviewed 26 field studies, including several of our own, that looked at the role fungal networks play in resource transfer in forests. What we found shows how easily confirmation bias, unchecked claims, and credulous news reporting can, over time, distort research findings beyond recognition. It should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists and journalists alike.

First, let’s be clear: Fungi do grow inside and on tree roots, forming a symbiosis called a mycorrhiza, or fungus-root. Mycorrhizae are essential for the normal growth of trees. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow.

As fungal filaments spread out through forest soil, they will often, at least temporarily, physically connect the roots of two neighboring trees. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network, or CMN.

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