Gene Logsdon: Heating With Wood Is An Eco-Crime?

The Contrary Farmer

That’s what a recent (Jan. 20) article suggested in the New York Times. After a few more provocative captions like that and a liberal use of the subjunctive mood to convince us of the dangers of burning wood, the article simmered down to saying what most of us already know: if you use dry seasoned wood and a certified low-polluting heating system, burning wood is as safe as heating with anything, but perhaps not in areas of heavy population like New York City. It is questionable whether automobiles are appropriate technology for New York City either and many people there in fact do not own one. I wonder how the Times would be received if it voiced a notion that driving cars is an eco-crime.

I don’t know the statistics but I will bet anything that the airplanes flying high above us belch out more pollution in a day than the fireplaces and woodburning stoves of New York City emit in a whole winter. I am certain that the millions upon millions of cars, buses, trucks, tractors and bulldozers in this country emit more pollutants every second than all the woodburning stoves do in a year. Furthermore, have the people who think burning wood is an eco-crime ever stopped  to consider how many millions of tons of coal and natural gas and fuel oil are burned every day to provide them with heat or to generate electric heat that they think is so much “greener” than burning wood? Then add on the vast amounts of these fuels that are burned to manufacture the appliances that deliver that heat to all those businesses and high rises and oversized suburban mansions. Then add on the whole energy consumption and infrastructure it takes to air condition all those buildings. If a fireplace is an eco-crime, what is an air-conditioner?

On the other hand, what is the “cost” of making wood? Nature does it practically for free in a process that provides all sorts of environmental benefits to the earth. Compare a forest to a mountain top removed for coal. Which is an eco-crime?

Even as I write this, Wendell Berry and other courageous people have emerged victorious after protesting to the governor of Kentucky about mountaintop removal. The governor wouldn’t speak to them, so they staged a sit-in in his office, risking arrest, until he did meet them. I should have been with him. I don’t have the courage or the patience. My way of protest is sneakier. I just fire up the wood stove.

The Times article suffered from another fallacy that many so-called “green” people believe. They accuse woodburners of cutting down live trees out here in the hinterland to use for fuel wood. I have never in 36 years of heating with wood cut down a single green tree for fuel. There are more than enough dead ones coming along every year. And for every dead tree, nature makes sure that at least five new saplings grow up in its place.

I think that well-meaning people take out their ire about environmental destruction on things like woodstoves because of their frustration. They can’t do anything to stop big oil, or the power companies, or the automotive industry or any of the other monolithic polluters whose pollution they, as consumers, use to keep themselves comfortable. They finally settle on groups like those of us who heat our homes with wood. We have no political power, no organization, and are too poor to mount any kind of fancy advertising campaign in The New Yorker magazine to show how environmentally saintly we are. We are easy prey, easy to tromp on.

If I lived in Manhattan, I would seriously consider which is more an eco-crime, a fireplace or New York City itself.

One Comment

Actually, burning wood ultimately releases no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is produced by natural decomposition, which happens anyway. Of course, if everyone in NYC or any other large urban area did it, they would be under a local pall of smoke.

I guess we’re still learning how to use our heads.