Was air pollution a factor when Portugal beat Poland?


A research team at the IZA Economic Institute in Bonn (Germany) found that air pollution significantly impacts the performance of football players, even when measured pollution is below what the EU considers “safe level” thresholds. Above those concentrations, the measured decline in performance reached as much as 16%!

The World Health Organization reported that outdoor air pollution in cities for fine particles (called PM2.5 being smaller then 2.5 microns including dust, exhausts and coal combustion) was almost three times higher in Poland than in Portugal (28.7 vs. 10.8 ug/m3). Health effects include asthma and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer – children, the elderly and those with lung or heart disease are most at risk.

Outdoor air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths around the world according to Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for public health, environmental and social determinants of health.

In December 2015, the European Commission referred Poland to the EU Court of Justice for persistently high and dangerous levels of air pollution – mostly coming from household heating and road traffic. The Commission deemed that measures taken by the authorities were inadequate.

While we cannot attribute the victory of Portugal to pollution, it is clear that poor air quality affects more then just the quality of football games. Urgent action is needed!

Migrants, Refugees and the Promise of Diversity


In the current migration crisis, people are fleeing to escape disaster, violence, poverty and hunger in  numbers unknown since World War II. But their desperate search for a better life is not always met with understanding and compassion. Hungary has set up a four meter-high barbwire fence along its Serbian border, Donald Trump is calling Mexican immigrants dangerous criminals, and Australia has implemented the world’s harshest policy by turning back boats of asylum-seekers, or forcing them to detainee centers on distant Pacific Islands and making sure they will never enter the country.

In the face of such hostility, it is refreshing to find a book with a different narrative. One where a country that promotes multiculturalism and social cohesion can enjoy the immense benefits of a more diverse society, where migrants truly become agents of progress and development. This was certainly our experience when my family immigrated to Montreal (Canada) in the early 1970s to escape the communist regime in Poland. Today still, Montreal is one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities in the world – a vibrant platform for culture, education and business innovation.

An Unlikely War Hero

diversity_0“The Promise of Diversity” by John Hartwell Williams and John Bond, tells the unlikely story of Jerzy Zubryzcki (1920-2009), a Polish intellectual turned cadet officer in the Polish Army when the Second World War broke. Forced to surrender to the German forces, Zubrzycki escaped imprisonment thanks to a Jewish shopkeeper who may have saved his life. He served with distinction in the Polish Army, the Polish underground resistance and with the British  forces. Thanks to his good English, which he learnt at the Krakow YMCA, he was selected to join a top secret elite team that was tasked by Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”, he underwent intense training in parachuting, explosives, sabotage, intelligence work and extreme survival skills. He even became an expert in the art of silent killing. In a “James Bond”-like adventure, he brought a captured V2 rocket from Poland to Britain, providing crucial intelligence to the allied forces.

Championing Diversity and Multiculturalism

Unable to return to Poland after the war, he became a refugee and decided to study sociology at the London School of Economics. He then joined the Australian National University where he became Professor of Sociology. Having experienced the horrors of Nazi occupation, he dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the integration of Australia’s increasing ethnic diversity. Australia, whose population was 7.4 million at the end of the war, received more then 2 million Europeans in the following two decades. Today still, it is home to one of the largest Greek communities outside Greece (particularly around Melbourne). Later came waves of refugees from Vietnam.

Thanks to his distinguished war record and contacts in the upper echelons of British society, he was able to access and influence the closed circles of Australian government, and successive Prime Ministers, helping them realize that the ethnic diversity is not a liability but an asset and that by enabling these values we enrich society as a whole. Through his influence he managed to “steer Australia towards multiculturalist settlement policies” (The Australian) for which he as been credited as the “father of Australian multiculturalism”.

The Stolen Generation Apology

Zubrzycki also helped in initiatives towards reconciling Australia’s Aboriginal population  with the wider community, initiatives which caught international attention in 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led a national apology to the Aboriginal community. His moving address can be viewed here:

As Secretary of the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, John Williams developed a friendship with Zubrzyzcki, which led him to start writing this biography. John Bond, an author who has helped several Australian public figures write their memoirs, completed the book and is now organizing a Polish translation and promoting the Zubrzycki story in Poland.

John Bond is no stranger to diversity and multiculturalism. Since 1969, he has been a member of “Initiatives of Change” in Australia, the Swiss-based organization that facilitated the German-French reconciliation process following the Second World War. John was elected Secretary of the “National Sorry Day Committee” whose work led to the apology from the Australian government. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the Australian community.

The book provides a wonderful account of how Zubrzycki’s early life experience of being rescued by a Jewish family shaped his belief in the value of diversity and turned him into a  champion of multiculturalism.

If Zubrzycki’s approach to multiculturalism were more widely understood, many of the troubles with migration and asylum seekers could be avoided. But given the unfortunate turn that policies towards foreigners are taking around the world, now more then ever, the Zubrzycki story is worth spreading.

It is high-time to dust-off the historical heroes of the Polish diaspora whose expertise and achievements have been recognized and admired by the world

Related Links:

Ordering “The Promise of Diversity” LINK

Jerzy Zubrzycki Biography in Polish

Transcript of ABC Interview with Jerzy Zubrzycki

Jerzy Zubrzycki Obituary

The End of a Great Ripoff! Fund Transfers Made Cheaper

Financial intermediaries charge up to 12% to transfer funds internationally. Most of these transactions are from migrants wanting to send money home. At last, there is a solution that will dramatically reduce these costs and put an end to the free ride of financial institutions on the backs of migrant workers.  Original Polish version of article in Forbes PolandBritish_Pounds_Wide

Polish migrants working abroad sent over $7.6 billion home during 2011 (World Bank), providing an important source of income to their families for whom this often represents a critical lifeline for survival. Unfortunately, financial intermediaries take advantage of the opacity of this market and the lack of sophistication of their customers to impose exorbitant fees to send these funds internationally. According to the World Bank, the costs of a typical transfer of £120 from the United Kingdom to Poland ranged from 7.6% to 10.4% through Western Union and Money Gram (during the last Quarter of 2014). Even worse, commercial banks charge the highest fees on money transfers, on average 11.75%, often hidden within exchange rates to make their services seem cheaper than they are. This leads most migrants to wrongly believe that bank transfers are the cheapest way to send money. With around $ 1.3 billion transferred from the UK to Poland in 2011, the amount of money withheld by such agents is enormous.

Globally, the World Bank estimates that migrant remittances reached $582 billion in 2014, with average fees of 7.9%. In 2008 already, alarmed by the burden of these fees, the G8 had announced its “5X5” objective to cut the cost of transfers by half – from 10% at the time to 5% in 2014. Not only are we significantly off target, but fees to send funds to Sub-Saharan Africa remain above 11%. With three-quarters of these moneys being sent to developing countries, it is estimated that missing the “5X5” target cost these countries an estimated $16 billion in 2013, more if some of the cheaper transfer options that are already available were used.

Today, a number of innovative money transfer operators like TransferWise, Azimo, CurrencyFair, WorldRemit, transferGo offer solutions to send money across the globe for as little as 0.5%. But lack of awareness and the inability to compare the various transfer options remains a problem. Seeing a business opportunity in helping migrant workers find the best money transfer option money, a group of young Swiss entrepreneurs developed http://www.TawiPay.com, a web-based platform that helps compare the fees of fund transfer providers by destination. “The “United Kingdom – Poland” was one of their first “corridors” to take advantage of the large volume of transfers from the 521,000 Poles working there” said Tawipay co-founder, Laurent Oberholzer. A new “German-Polish” corridor, representing around $1.5 billion, was launched just last week.

While the website is free for users, the service is financed by micro-commissions from the operators. The success of the startup is therefore linked to its capacity to generate large volumes of transactions. Given the potential for enormous savings offered by TawiPay platform, let’s hope that today’s fund transfer quasi-monopolies will soon be a story of the past and that we will be able to expect better transparency and lower fees from the sector.

The TawiPay Story

In 1998, after a trip to Cameroon, Francois and Pascal Briod, two young students in Lausanne (Switzerland), created an association to support a village in this African country. In the first year they sent 180 Swiss francs and were shocked by the 10%+ fees charged by Western Union to transfer the funds. Realizing that globally such fund transfers represent over 500 billions of dollars annually, the Briod brothers teamed up with Laurent Oberholzer to develop the TawiPay.com platform that helps migrant workers lower the costs of sending money abroad.

EU Brokered Russian “Winter-Gas Package” for Ukraine buys time for Europe

With winter at our doorstep and just hours before leaving office, outgoing European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, announced a last minute deal to keep Ukraine and Europe warm this winter and give assurances to Gazprom that Ukraine will be able to pay its debts of $3.1 billion and make upfront payments for the 4 billion cubic meters of gas ($1.5 billion) to be supplied until March 2015. Ukraine now also feels comfortable that Russia will deliver on its commitments. Financing will come from the current IMF programs and other sources.

PutinGasThe gas supplies to Ukraine had been cut since June, following deteriorating relations between the two countries. Meanwhile the tension between Europe and Russia was increasing and fears that Russia would cut gas supplies like it did in 2006 and 2009 resurfaced. What aggravated Russia most was the re-export of Russian gas from Poland, Hungary and Slovakia to Ukraine. Retaliation through lower supplies to these highly dependent central-European states heightened the crisis.

Russia’s Eroding Negotiation Position

The deal implies a $378 per cubic meter rate price, far below the original Russian asking price of $485. Similarly, Poland managed to renegotiate its rates with Gazprom in 2012 with a 15% reduction on a price of around $550, the second highest in Europe at the time (after Macedonia).

The recent reduction in the price of oil may have played in favor of Ukraine and Europe. While Russia was counting on oil at $100 a barrel for its 2015-2017 budget, the recent drop to $80 and expectations that it may fall to $70 in the coming months has severe implications for Russian finances and economy. The deal with Ukraine and the EU provides much needed stability for the coming months.

A Golden Opportunity for Energy Security through Efficiency

Europe depends on Russia for 30% of its gas supplies. In Ukraine this dependence represents 40% of its entire energy consumption. But Ukraine is one of the least efficient countries in terms of its energy use and it is promoting energy waste through misguided fuel subsidies representing 7.5% of its GDP. With an energy intensity that is twice that of Russia and 10 times the OECD average, the IMF is correct in requiring a major energy reform to reduce energy waste as part of its bailout.

Similarly, the EU is looking at improving energy security by implementing energy efficiency policies that would result in 40% savings by 2030, with equivalent reductions in gas imports. These measures could save Europe up to €549 billion between 2011 and 2030 according to the Commission.