Sorry to be the bearer of bad news just as Christmas is around the corner and many are looking forward to getting cosy in front of “hygge” wood burning stoves. The best New Year’s Resolution you can make for the planet is to ditch them completely.
Don’t take my word for it, listen instead to Dr Gary Fuller of King’s College who provides the title quote in this uncharacteristically brilliant episode of Start the Week which tackles the issue of clean air as well as our relationship to trees. The whole episode is worth 45 minutes of your time but Dr Fuller speaks in the last quarter about wood burning and the release of carbon into the atmosphere.
If you’ve not got time, Gary Fuller also writes Pollution Watch at the Guardian and some of the short articles talk about the effect of wood burning and also what happens when people stop using wood as a fuel.
All waste streams produced by human activity are pollutants to the wider natural world. We dominate this planet as a species. Just wait until the methane release from the Russian grasslands starts accelerating ... 40 times worse impact than CO2. We all get fixated by pollution that affects our own health but tend to forget the devastation on all ecosystems and the animals etc within them ...
Heard it on R4 on a previous documentary, but most of us will enjoy going out for our 24/7 kebabs, cooked on wood already burned by other wood, the blue haze over Haringey of carbon and cooking meat is unavoidable. Most of Africa and poorer continents cook on wood, your 'once a year' fire in the hearth is a drop in the ocean, just enjoy it, we're all doomed anyway.
I stopped even thinking of breeding a very long time ago. I've never owned or driven a car in Harringay or anywhere else. I hate bloody or even well done kebabs. I'm not one of your wood-burning stove or open fire fiends (though I'm afraid I was reared on turf-smoke - peat, if you insist - but that was seven decades ago.) I've been practising walking on water for some time, so that should take care of the plane problem. I'm going to take out a HGV licence on Christmas Eve (just to Start the Week properly - obviously the least polluting hobby for the more mature boy racer.
One of my biggest issues with Haringey right now. The air stinks. Wood, wood + plastic, etc.
As for those that quibble about wood smoke v diesel - it's like comparing cigars with pipes, or with cigarettes. It smacks of cognitive dissonance.
Don't mention the additives (is that creosote I can smell?) or other things that are burned.
Why also quibble over 6 HGVs or 7 or whatnot? "Oh my cough feels lighter now I know it's equivalent to 4.5 instead of 7.6 HGVs every saturday". It's okay I only smoke 5 B&H rather than 12.
Do they pollute? Yes. Is it significant? Yes.
They are a blight on our lungs. There is no rational environmental argument for releasing more PM5s, PM10s etc into our community air. Simple as that. They should be banned in London and policed.
As for the carbon argument - Sorry but Fuller says it best (and this is not Dorset).
Thanks Liz for sharing - an awesome post.
Merry Christmas :)
Totally agree Dan couldn’t have put it better myself! We are killing ourselves and nobody seems interested! Thanks Liz
Just a quick comment - I am under the impression that quite a few people still burn wood on open fires in London - my chimney sweep confirmed this to me recently. Wood burning stoves installed in smoke control areas (which includes London) are supposed to be designed to be smokeless. Recommended designs for England are here
But you might not want to believe me as I have a wood burning stove. The wood I burn comes from managed woodland in the Chilterns and is air dried for at least one year. I would accept not lighting it if pollution levels are high (but have no other form of heating).
I think it would be fair to comment, I personally wish everyone who burned solid fuel would be as aware as you are.
for me, the issue is superbly outlined by Liz's original post. They (WB stoves) are proven to cause a lot of localised air pollution. For your link, this applies to England and IMO we really need to tackle urban air quality, the air is already bad. So great for devon, perhaps not so for London.
I am slightly worried about starting a proverbial fire by mentioning carbon, however, I do sense (as some have mentioned with Diesel) that uptake was somewhat incentivised by the carbon argument. This means sacrificing local air quality to get to a 'goal' (release of particulates, which comes from wood/diesel burning, much less so from gas).
A great example of a sector that is addressing a similar problem is maritime bunker fuel and sulphur. If reliable scrubbers are available, then I stand corrected, as does Dr Fuller. I don't think they do. My stinging eyes in the passage and clothes that stink of burning wood attest to that!
For me this is an issue of utility for many.
If motivated by carbon - then insulation, lighting, and other techniques are the way forward.
I'd be very happy to have a chat away from here with those who mention aviation - I work with IATA/ATAG in this very area for aviation. The sector really really cares, but I don't think boycotting is a sustainable solution for the world's population, it needs to be more holistic and business supportive (e.g. CORSIA). The world needs win:wins! (profits:pollution).
We cannot, however, rely on education, information and the 'better judgment' of the masses. There is too much noise for that kind of rational decision making. IMO a ban should be necessary on all solid fuel heating unless it has a signed off permit - the air quality issue is so dire in London.
A fire at Christmas would surely be nice though :)