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What is the recipe for a healthy city? We talk to Szymon Bujalski!

Wiktor Bochenek
07 of February '23

What is the prescription for a healthy city? Unfortunately, there is no panacea that solves all problems. Instead, there is a set of ideas and concepts, summarized in his book by Szymon Bujalski.

Known as a journalist for Climate, Szymon Bujalski has for several years combined his passion for writing with the need to fight for a better tomorrow. He recently published his book „Recepta na zdrowe miasto” (Wydawnictwo Wysoki Zamek), in which he talks about how we should create cities that are healthier and ready for advancing climate change.

Szymon Bujalski, a journalist for Climate, talks about why he took up climate, whether he is overwhelmed by the fight against denialists, and whether adaptation or mitigation is more important.

Wiktor Bochenek: Why did you take up journalism for the climate?

Szymon Bujalski: On the one hand it was about a higher intention, on the other hand it was about myself. I wanted to start acting independently and say goodbye to my previous job, so I was looking for an idea for myself. For a while I even had the thought of writing about cheap travel—including air travel—because at one time I was quite good at it.

In the meantime, I got involved in environmental protection, as I was working at a newspaper on urban topics. When I noticed the problem of cutting down trees or concrete in times of climate change, I began to take a broader interest in it. I learned that climate change is an important issue that few people talk about in common language. I thought this could be a space for me, where I would do something for myself and at the same time for a cause I believe in.

Wiktor : Where did the topic for the book come from? Did you miss such an item on the publishing market, or did you just want to collect all that you were working on?

Simon: My goal was never to write a book. I'm a news journalist and primarily write short content. When I was approached by Wydawnictwo Wysoki Zamek to write a book about climate in the context of cities, I thought it was worth a try though. The book is an opportunity to contain more messages, content, reflections and people's stories. I had the opportunity to write out and I took it. It was important to present these big issues in such a way that they don't frighten and discourage, whether it's the level of complexity or the awareness that it's so bad.

That's why about two-thirds of it was showing how things could be good, and only one-third showing why things are bad. I missed an item on the market that talked about climate change in the context of Poland from a human perspective and its scale. Not the big reports and physicochemical processes, but our gray everyday life, which is greatly affected by the climate.

Książka Szymona Bujalskiego została wydana przez wydawnictwo Wysoki Zamek

Szymon Bujalski's book was published by Wysoki Zamek Publishing House

© High Castle

Wiktor :
Speaking of inspiration, another question comes to my mind. Who is this book addressed to?

Szymon: I've been asked several times if this book is addressed to local governments, to which I always answer that it is not. Local governments will only become interested in such topics when people become interested—this is sad, but true.

This is a book for local residents, but I wouldn't say it is for everyone. Many people still reject the fact that humans affect the climate, many people see climate action as a threat and taking away freedom. This is not a book for them. It's a book for those who know something is wrong, but don't quite know what, and would like to make it better, but don't quite know how to achieve it. The goal of this publication is to spur moderately committed people to become more involved-but not on an individual level, but on a collective level. It's about joining forces and showing that green living is enjoyable, which will produce new social norms.

That's why I included the metaphor of white blood cells in the book-which defend the body from disease and attack by strengthening the immune system. They for our cities are committed citizens, fighting both for a better tomorrow and today.

Wiktor : We will return to the issue of convinced and unconvinced. After reading your book, I have the impression that you emphasize more strongly the issue of adaptation or mitigation. Do we put too little emphasis on the former in Poland? When we talk about climate change, there is always the issue of energy decarbonization. Is this adaptation more necessary to emphasize than mitigation? Maybe I have the wrong impression?

Szymon: I think your impression is justified, although that was not my goal. This impression may come from the fact that I wrote more about things directly close to the people, with whom we have more contact and more experience. These are often things that are a little smaller, related to what we do locally.

Mitigation is largely a matter of the great energy transition, led by the government and through appropriate regulations. It's not just a Polish issue, but an international one. At the same time, I couldn't write about everything. So I decided that I wanted to write about what locally we have the most influence on—adaptation comes from this, although I also wanted to write about mitigation. That's why there are issues of public transportation or burning coal in homes, which combine mitigation and locality.

Few people care what is burned at the Belchatow Power Plant, but many more care what is burned in their immediate surroundings.

W książce znajdziemy rozmowę z urbanistą Pawłem Jaworskim - pracującym przy placu Orła Białego

The book includes a conversation with urban planner Pawel Jaworski—who works on the White Eagle Square

© Szczecin City Hall

From your experience, how is the approach to climate change changing in Poland?

Szymon: Even after a couple of years of experience, you can see that this topic has entered the public debate in earnest and is often raised. It's getting harder and harder to be a person who hasn't heard anything about it. This is certainly a big change, which affects people's attitudes. We are beyond the first stage of talking about climate change, we have moved to the awareness that it is happening. We rarely hear about it not happening, but more and more we hear that it's not because of human activity—although this narrative is also beginning to crumble. For this next stronghold of denialism to fall, however, it will take many more catapult shots.

In the context of denialism, it is worth adding that the narratives I mentioned above are two of the five stages of denying the facts about climate change. Stage three is the claim that a warmer climate will be better—in Poland, for example, this manifests itself in arguments that we will have a warmer Baltic and start producing wine. The fourth stage, on the other hand, is the claim that adaptation to climate change will be cheaper than mitigation, which of course is also a lie. The fifth stage, on the other hand, is to conclude that we are too late to take action and nothing can be done anymore, so we might as well not take any action at all.

Thetruth, of course, is that humans are responsible for the current climate change, a warmer climate will bring terrible consequences globally, and action is as worthwhile and necessary as possible. What's more, climate action is overwhelmingly action that will improve our quality of life here and now.... That's why I think that at this stage we don't just need climate scientists, but also sociologists, behaviorists and psychologists to help de-emphasize the fight against climate nonsense.

Wiktor : Is it possible to convince the unconvinced? I happen to see such statements on social networks and with unpleasantness. You mentioned earlier that your book is aimed at the semi-convinced, but what about the unconvinced?

Szymon: I have dilemmas with this all the time. I stick to the version that one should forgive, ignore and if they write nonsense or are boorish, block. I want to create a space where those who are looking for solutions and are on the side of good had as little contact as possible with those who are on the side of evil.

Besides, many people cannot be persuaded anyway, because they will always pull out some false arguments, such as about the natural process of the current climate change. Such people do not want to know the truth, because they are convinced of their infallibility on a good day. They have no scientific knowledge at all, and consider themselves smarter than professors who have been studying the phenomenon for decades. This is not the type of personality that can be reached with arguments, so talking to them simply makes no sense. At the same time, each of us has limited energy resources and we should think about how to invest them. I prefer to locate my resources in people who have potential and want to work for a better today and tomorrow.

Jedną z wymienianych inicjatyw przez Szymona Bujalskiego w książce jest las kieszonkowy nadzorowany przez Kaspra Jakubowskiego

One of the initiatives mentioned by Szymon Bujalski in the book is the pocket forest, supervised by Kasper Jakubowski

© Green City Poznań | UWI Inwestycje SA

I was going to ask what is the biggest pain point in a journalist's work for climate, but the answer probably comes to mind.

Szymon: And what kind of answer comes to mind?

Wiktor : Banging your head against the wall when talking to arrogant individuals .

Szymon: That's why I don't talk to them and have a calmer head. So the biggest issue for me is something else. That is, how our societies and social media function. The life span of a news story is short, so the message also has to be short.

On top of that, we don't have the space today to deal with things that really matter. We are all overworked and jumping from flower to flower, unable to choose what is really important. We are bombarded by a barrage of junk information, and clickbait dominates over substance. In such a world, climate change loses its importance.

In short: the problem is a society that lives on crazy news and the social media that feeds it.

Wiktor: Which way are we heading? Will this public awareness improve?

Szymon: I see a growing ray of hope, because the energy transition is accelerating. I see this both in conversations with Polish scientists and by reading foreign articles and reports. Of course, this does not mean that scientists are optimistic, but we have certainly moved away from the blackest scenarios, which are no longer likely to threaten us. From Poland's perspective, however, this is not visible, because we have a government that blocks climate policy and imposes a narrative in the public debate that is based on denying facts.

Things are different in the world. In the US, decisions have been made to invest heavily in decarbonization. The same is happening in China.

Kwestia zieleni i jej roli w mieście stanowi istotną część książki Szymona Bujalskiego

The issue of greenery and its role in the city is an important part of Szymon Bujalski's book—pictured is the Beaufort estate (designed by Rayss Group).

© Rayss Group

This is quite interesting, because China is always an example in Poland that you don't have to limit yourself.

Szymon: This is a good example. The „let China act” argument has been alive in Poland for a few years, but it is increasingly lost to the facts. Yes, China still emits the most carbon dioxide in the world, but it is also the largest country in terms of population. Per capita, a Pole emits more than a Chinese. Let's keep that in mind.

At the same time, China is moving toward clean energy much faster than Poland. For many years it was a small increase, and now it's massive investments in photovoltaics, windmills, heat pumps or electric cars.

Back to the question. We are not heading for the wall at 140 kilometers per hour, but 70. The consequences will be painful, but the chances are increasing that we will survive and slow down even more. I'm an increasingly moderate optimist, which is why my book went in that direction. That's why it's such a big danger in the fight against climate change that we lose the sense of action—a mistake, because not all is lost.

Wiktor : Thank you for the interview!

interviewed by Wiktor Bochenek

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