Thursday, November 22, 2007

About Burning Wood..

Many articles later, I can think my way through two central issues regarding the burning of wood. What follows is a non-scientist's interpretation of those articles. The two categories are: 1) Health and 2) Environment. One would think that these are the same but there are pro-wood burning folks and and anti-wood burning folks. Pro has something to do with wood not being a fossil fuel and the coal burning associated with converting fossil fuel by power production plants - hence carbon emissions. The Con has to do with chemicals in smoke and particulate matter that is very small (less than a micron) that can get into the deepest part of the lungs and cause damage. The con argument is that wood smoke is more dangerous than second-hand cigarette smoke. In urban areas, fireplaces and wood stoves contaminate the air in other homes because the particulate matter is so small that it crosses the barriers even closed storm windows etc. The pro-wood burning thought is that if wood is seasoned and burned efficiently and in modern, EPA approved wood stoves it create heat without the dangerous elevation of CO2 (a serious green house gas) that is believed to be a cause of global warming.
I know that there are people all over the face of the earth who cook on open wood fueled fires and heat with wood. Are there any programs to produce new wood to replace the trees that are burned for heat? I read an excerpt about Brazilian women who have advanced lung disease from cooking on open wood fires. I did not read anything that indicated that they also smoked cigarettes or if someone in their family did. Does burning wood in remote rural areas raise the same problem as burning wood in urban areas? Does smoke from wood or corn pellets present the same danger as wood logs? Some of the data seems to suggest that it does not but does still have that particulate problem. What incentive is there for owners of old wood stoves to convert to a more efficient wood burning stove?
The other day I listened to an accupuncturist say to me that all wood burning should be banned. That it was far more dangerous than cigarette smoke. She said that there was only a one year's supply of wood if everyone who wanted to burn wood did. Is that accurate? Obviously more reading is called for here. I would think that freezing to death in the winter is dangerous but she didn't mention that. How do the poor and economically challenged middle-class people survive if they stop burning wood. Oil and gas is expensive to install and right now those fuels are breath-takingly expensive to purchase assuming one could afford the burner. Each is a fossil fuel. The economics of these health and environmental issues are enormous. I've heard many lawyers say "hard cases make bad law" and with that in mind I think that regulations for urban areas will likely not be useful for rural areas. Solutions mandated for the middle class and above will not work for the poor. Regulations rallied for by the urban upper and middle classes have a designer patina to them. How do we include the rest of the people in these discussions and eventual legislation?
It's a lot to ponder. Will have to search my neck of the woods and see who is doing what about these issues.
In the mean time, today we've had a heat was in the 50's (F). Wrapped the base of the house in plastic to reduce the effects of the wind and it's chill on myself and my companions. Now to find some bales of marsh hay to put around the foundation. It will be back in the teens tonight. More snow on Friday. Practicing for the more serious months of winter: January and February. December is wily. One never knows as it can be warm (well, by New England standards that is) or bitterly cold (serious sub-zero temps).

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