Gene Logsdon and Friends

Heating With Wood Is An Eco-Crime?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on February 16, 2011 at 7:42 am

From GENE LOGSDON

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.

~~

  1. That NY Times article is pretty useful…you can use it to kindle your next fire :)

  2. Wood heat is so obviously dirty. We get dirty when we cut and split the wood, when we carry it in, when we carry the ashes out, and when we clean the chimney. We know first hand the true cost of our warmth, and that makes us cherish it and use it wisely.
    It’s so easy for people to think that a heat-pump is somehow clean. The heat leaves scars and pollution, but when they aren’t in your backyard it can’t touch you personally. When you don’t see the mountaintop removal or the power plant belching out clouds of smoke, you just turn up the heat without realizing the true cost.
    All this became very easy to see when we visited a state park last year. Maybe you’ll take a minute to read about our experience. It really changed the way I think about energy.

    http://furlinedtoiletseats.blogspot.com/2010/07/counting-cost.html

    Thanks so much for this article and for allowing me to comment.

  3. That wasn’t as bad an article as it could’ve been. FirePLACES are pretty awful all around – stoves are much better. And while it’s entirely rational to burn wood in a rural area, buying a little bundle at the bodega to give your NYC apartment some ambience is pretty freakin’ dumb. “If I lived in Manhattan, I would seriously consider which is more an eco-crime, a fireplace or New York City itself.” <- I totally agree :)

  4. Of course, you can criticize the wood-burning fire with impunity if you have other sources of heat. It’s only when the electricity is out and the snow is too deep for fuel oil or coal deliveries that wood heat is blessed for helping you survive. And giving up a wood fire when you can turn up the furnace thermostat is not as much of a personal sacrifice (however fashionable it may be) as trading in your SUV for a smaller, more fuel efficient car. I’ll stick with my wood and decrease my driving, thank you! The NY Times piece is a great example of the old adage: “Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel…”

  5. Ahhh, don’t get your undies in a bundle…It was just another dumb urban journalist who had to come up with a story for his editor, neither of whom knows a damn thing about country living. More and more I’m just ignoring the rest of the world and focussing on my gardens and trying to become more self-sufficient.

    Have you ever thought about the vast amount of space in newspapers and magazines and e-zines, and also on radio and TV, that has to, simply has to, be filled because of their publishing schedules? There is just so damn much BS being published that it is sometimes hard to find anything that really warrants reading or listening to.

  6. Amen Gene! Some people (like the NY Times writer) just don’t get it. Just about every other heat source besides wood emits *fossil* carbon, which is the source of the biggest problems we face. All CO2 is not created equal. If you pull it out of the atmosphere before you return it (as with wood), there’s no net gain in CO2. When you dig it up, there is a net gain in CO2.

    Wood may have some problems with particulate and the like, but these are relatively short lived, and don’t bioaccumulate like coal emissions (mercury in particular).

  7. Reminds me of someone’s comment about why people wearing fur coats get attacked but people wearing leather jackets do not. Who would you rather attack, an old rich woman or a group of Hell’s Angels?

  8. I suspect:

    1. The Times would be almost as quick to condemn automobiles
    2. They erroneously believe that giant cities are more environmentally sound than country living.
    3. Millions of wood burners in a few square miles probably would be a (very local) environmental (not ecological) disaster due to the concentration
    4. The EPA is moving toward outlawing wood burning
    5. The nearly subconscious prejudice and hidden agenda behind 1, 2, & 4 is an antipathy toward anything which supports or is characteristic of independence and self-sufficiency

  9. Even my corn burner exhausts CO2 and the corn dust settles like newly fallen snow on top of my piano, but that’s life. As John Wayne said, “Life is tough. It’s even tougher when you’re stupid.” He must have just read the NYTimes.

    • At least the CO2 coming out of your corn-burner was pulled out of the atmosphere a few months before you burned it, so there’s no net gain in carbon. We can’t say the same for the diesel used by the tractors to grow & transport it though.

      • Please stop the “net” carbon nonsense. At current atmospheric levels of .00358% we have a serious shortage of CO2 in the atmosphere. It has been demonstrated in greenhouses that if you pump huge quantities of CO2 into them, within hours the chloroplasts in the plants will step up absorption rapidly to absorb the extra CO2 and return the equilibrium to normal. It isn’t even noticeably hard to breath in an atmosphere where CO2 is ten times higher than it currently is, and Forrest Mims III gave us a wonderful little experiment that showed that CO2 does not cause a retention of heat in the atmosphere, but water vapor does. So, lets stick to REAL science when it comes to talking about carbon.

  10. I imagine the Hell’s Angels get a hell of a lot more mileage out of a leather jacket than an old rich lady. Less consumption oriented, use it up, wear it out kinda thing. Plus they’ve already made the switch from a big SUV to a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle. I reckon they are pretty environmentally friendly folks all around.

  11. Gene,

    1.)as you pointed out, no sane person cuts down a green tree to burn for heat (though some idiots around here use Black Locust that way as it will burn green)
    2.) a whole shitload of green trees are cut down to print even a single issue of the frigging New York frigging Times on.
    3.)I’m not a researcher of such things but I’d say that the equivalent of maybe a thousand forests worth of trees are burned up every year just to fuel the MOVEMENT of oil from where its produced to where its more or less invisibly incinerated (iffen ah cain’t see it, lordy how kin it be that bad)
    4.)not very long ago I got light draft horse–Haflinger, just a beautiful girl–to work around here but also to get me and whoever might need it around. Imagine the first time my girl, Maude, goes to town and leaves a bit of fertility behind. Don’t you know that even here in a rural community someone, and maybe a bunch, get stoopid about her leaving a ‘mess’. But who might even have the time to count the number of bloody stones heaped on my lifeless form if I were to demand that an equivalent accountability be administered to them big ole dualies and the chromed up hogs and the 500 horsepower tractors that everlastingly roar through the dirt around here??
    5.)most people who heat directly with wood know in their bones the value and the real cost of heat and don’t turn the thermostat up a half cord just because they can. e.g. (and I know I’m a bit extreme) the mean temp in the winter INSIDE during the time I’ve lived here is probably mid 40’s. I get it up into the 50’s and as high as 60 when I’m vertical, but I’ve woken up to as little as 26 degrees. To me, that doesn’t mean hooray for me like I’m Rambo or some kind of hard ass. But I will say that if an old fart like me can make life work like that then it can’t really be all that demanding or difficult to do. I greatly admire the Japanese philosophy in that regard, which is at least centuries old and perhaps much older even than that, of heating the person rather than the space. That’s something I seek to emulate and also why there might be a bit of ice on the cats’ water in the a.m. Ain’t yet had a cat leave for a better situation down the road where they’re torching them fossils, though.
    6.) I think the best answer to all the stoopid shit about wood is “show me the numbers”…not just the kilocalories per gran from combustion, but the real values and costs from production to combustion.
    7.) um thinkin this is going to be a real kick ass book yer setting out on. You’re plainly fired up and so are some of the folks sending stuff yer way.
    8.)looking around the planet, it seems to me that it’s bout plenny nough time to take off the gloves and spit it out, and I really look forward to reading that kind of discourse from you.
    9.) got chores and a couple of yappy puppies chewing on my overpriced muck boots…

  12. I went to Frankfort on Monday to tell my Govenor to stop mountaintop coal removal, and heard Wendell Barry speak very eloquently there. We heat with wood in Lexington Ky which I cut on my farm in the country. This year, a broken arm limited the amount of good wood I put up and we recently ran out. The cats and I really miss the fire.

  13. If you’re talking about efficiency of wood use, it’s far more efficient to burn wood for heat in a good woodstove than to burn it in a power plant to make electricity to turn back into heat. Even a ground coupled heat pump has a hard time beating the overall efficiency of a good woodstove, if you’re burning biomass for electricity. The only disadvantage is the local emissions produced.

    DK

  14. As the wealthy tighten their chokehold on the rest of us you can rest assured that woodburning stoves will eventually become outlawed. Even here in rural WI there is talk about regulating “dirty” outdoor woodstoves. Articles such as these in the NYTimes are harmful as they influence the great majority of movers and shakers who don’t know any better.

  15. Wood heating is an easy target to take a swipe at because there’s no “big wood” to lobby for it. Coal, oil, etc are backed by big corporations with the money and influence to bite back.

  16. They want to complain about wood burning but did they cover Kentucky Rising?
    If I hear one more commercial about “geen” cars running on electricity, I think I’m going to throw up. Where do these knot heads think their “green” electricity comes from? It’s fed by mountaintop removal amongst other incredibly destructive practices! That’s “green”, isn’t it?

    And I agree with David Z on all his points. Well said!

    And I mostly agree with Gene – I have the courage, I don’t have the patience nor the ability to shut my mouth timely. As my friends try to remind me – “Try to keep your alligator mouth from overriding your hummingbird ass!” That’s why I am thankful for people like Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon!

  17. Not to mention the fact that if you split the wood as you use it – going out to swing a maul at a few rounds and haul them inside when the stove slows down, you’ll feel plenty warm when you bring the wood back inside, and won’t need to put it in the stove for a little while.

  18. There happens to be a whole world of wood cooking and HEATING using the rcket stove concept.
    And Rocket stoves when fired correctly burn of CO2 rather than expelling into the sky!
    So i suggest before you continue this dialogue further you may want to Google: Wood burning Rocket stove.
    It is estimated the 270 million cook stoves need to be replaced in the world to signifcantly reduce CO2 and Black carbon ememissions.
    Also they use minimal wood for food cooking and of course space heating.

    • Rocket stoves are great (I’m planning to build one myself), but I think you may be confusing CO2 with CO. The better the combustion process, the more stuff comes out at CO2 and H2O, and the less particulate or CO (Carbon Monoxide) is produced.

  19. i think David Z is one of my new favorite people. well said indeed!

    these are the same people who think i’m enslaving my chickens and are horrified at my raised-and-butchered in the yard pigs. they scold me from their range rovers as they drive the one city block distance down to their luxury grocery store to buy out of season nectarines. for heavens sakes.

    as for me, i gotta go put another log on the fire.

    write on, Gene, write on!

  20. I see a lot of woodfire enthusiasts here. Let me make a cautionary comment please: I and my family have had major problems with neighbors burning wood for heat at night. I refer here to waking to a house smelling of smoke, sore throats, headaches, sinusitis, sick feeling. Wood smoke is full of carcinogens and tiny particulates that get deep into lungs, permanently. Do the research. typically, these neighbors are not amenable to reasoned argument and have an almost religious attachment to their heating method. They sneakily tamp the fire down very late at night to make it smoulder all night, and smoke pours from their chimneys. One person doing this can make life miserable and the air toxic for hundreds of neighbors. It is simply not a viable heating methods in suburban or city areas. Rural life, 40ac+, yes, but otherwise NO.

  21. I suppose that when we read something what we take away is influenced by what we bring with us in the first place. I didn’t see anything in the article about cutting down live trees. On the contrary, there are references to burning “downed trees that would decompose anyway” and “fallen wood cleared from … properties nearby.” The primary environmental damage discussed in the Times piece caused by wood burning is not deforestation, but air pollution.

    Is it a bad thing that the inhabitants of our nation’s largest city have realized that it is fundamentally wrong to do something which benefits you alone, and passes on the costs to your neighbors? You get romantic ambience and maybe a little heat. Your neighbor gets an asthma attack. Come on, in densely populated areas doesn’t it make sense to have emission standards? So that’s what you are starting to see, especially in places where lots of folks heat with wood.

    This article was not in the Science section. It was a little Home and Garden fluff piece, discussing the falling popularity of fireplaces, and the rising demand for cleaner, more efficient alternatives.

    Should the people who read the New York Times be concerned with how we get the coal to burn to make electricity to charge the batteries of their zero-emission electric car? Absolutely. And I would venture to say that you would find more support for a mountaintop removal ban among New Yorkers than you would in just about any of the fly-over Red States. So why villify the frustrated, misinformed, hypocritical eco-criminals of the Big Apple?

    Believe me, a lot of those city slickers are interested in the things you write about, Gene. They admire independence and self-sufficiency. They care about sustainable agriculture and small scale food production. They want to be more connected to the natural world. That’s why, in spite of their urban environment, so many of them still love a great fire!

  22. Been heating with all wood since 2005 (domestic hot water included) It makes zero sense to me to burn a fuel that has to be shipped across state lines, pay out the nose for, then burn it to stay warm when we have a sea of trees all around and ON our 75 acres. Maine is 90% forested yet we burn more home heating fuel than any other state in the union, I dont understand it. We have become dependent upon someone else to heat our home because it is convienient. This house doesnt use one drop of oil to heat the house or water. I do have run a chain saw to cut the wood, but its live 5-8 gallons of gas a year. Back in the 1800s Maine was 75% fields and everyone burned with wood. go figure

  23. I hear a lot of passion in the responses, and I agree. I remember 20 years ago in Denver if they had an inversion, they would ban woodburning in Denver until it went away. Woodsmoke was a serious problem there.

    Now, we have very efficient and clean burning wood stoves, and I want to learn more about these “rocket” stoves I’ve read about. I’d like to see one. The latest yuppie rage is the outside woodburner that heats liquid that goes to the home furnace. Of course, you have to buy a generator, because if the electricity goes off, the house starts to get cold. They smoke a lot. You still have that impressive 10 cords of wood stacked outside, though, for your neighbors to look at.

    I agree with you, too, David Z. Mild stress is good. In winter, you can always put more clothes on. In the summer, if your nekid, and still overheated, the only relief is if the Jehovah’s Witnesses show up.

  24. louis c You are right there was nothing in this particular article about cutting down live trees. But it is a common misconception. Do you read Andy Rooney’s syndicated newspaper column? I used to think he was a voice of sanity but he has written that people who burn wood for home heat “should be arrested.” He kept referring to cutting down live trees. He said people should burn coal, not wood! I am not going to try to be “reasonable” with people that ignorant. They will just take whatever you politely agree with in their argument, and grab for more. Gene

    • Gene,
      Not to be contrary, but all coal is not as bad as mountaintop removal. Most anthracite now comes from re-mining operations that are owned by family size businesses who are cleaning up old spoil piles that blight northeast PA. Anthracite burns pretty clean too.

      PS
      I would like to contact you regarding my OP field corn seed stock (I have a rare variant of Reid’s, and I want you to have some if you are interested) Can you get my email from the comment form?

  25. Well, Mr. Louis C, c’mon, yerself. Are you so sure that what you yourself call a fluff piece (intending not much more than to draw the reader’s eyes past the ads on that page) in the garden section of the NYT somehow indicates “that the inhabitants of our nation’s largest city HAVE REALIZED (my emphasis)that its fundamentally wrong…etc”. That would be one thermonuclear bit of fluff I’d have to say. As to the notion that its about air pollution rather than deforestation, hmmm…let’s for real then take a hard look at air pollution in the big ole apple and see what we see. Let’s make a list and specify with real numbers what’s going on. From 1 to 100, let’s see where fireplaces line up.

    As far as obnoxious neighbors and asthma attacks, that’s
    a lot more about obnoxious than it is about wood I should think. Yup fer sure there are better and worse ways to burn wood and as has been suggested quite a few times on this blog, we can certainly stand to get a lot more knowledgeable and intelligent about it. That, though, doesn’t alter the equation between renewable carbon sources and fossil carbon sources in the least.

    As far as rocket stoves or any other technology and CO2 emissions, a 100% clean burn of any carbon source will send CO2 and H20 up the stack and nothing else. You burn (oxidize) any carbon source and best you can get is fully oxidized carbon on the other end. CO2 in the atmosphere is a pollutant only in the aggregate sense of its function as greenhouse gas if it reaches a concentration beyond which ecological balance can’t be maintained, which it in fact already has according the liberal commie pinkos at NASA. The planet is in deep doodoo in that regard. But CO2 is not a pollutant in regard to human health and asthma or any other disease. It’s the soot and tars from incomplete combustion that lodge in mammalian respiratory systems with undesirable consequences. So efficient burn technology is indeed relevant.

    Lastly, I’ve no doubt there are plenty of right minded and caring New Yorkers who hope for things to shift in a saner and healthier direction. I personally believe its already adequately documented that we and the rest of life on the planet are at a particular conjuncture where not much matters other than what we do, not what we care about and hope for. Hoping and caring that aren’t hard wired to doing are about as useless as those farm metaphors suggest.

  26. After reading your Progressor Times column this week, I was wondering what had stirred your linguistic pot concerning the subjunctive. I think I understand. My initial response was very similar to most of the comments but I really appreciate the balance that John and Louis C bring. Lasting solutions are difficult to find between “us” and “them”.

    On a personal note, we bought a new catalytic converter soapstone wood stove this year to replace the 30 year old steel airtight that has been our primary source of heat and was still working as good as ever. I have been amazed at the difference. The sales info said that you should not see or smell smoke from your chimney when using the stove properly. I was pretty skeptical of that claim but it has been the case and the decrease in amount of wood needed is noticeable. In all honesty, we bought it because it looked beautiful and it had a fireview window. We justified it because of the advertised efficiencies and it qualified for the tax credit. I love it when questionable motives lead to admirable outcomes.

    Yoi keep raising the bar on yourself here Gene. You have definitely found a topic worthy of your talents.

  27. I have been heating with wood for 20+ years, and have a couple of observations: It is not as black and white as some people are making out. If you use a good quality stove and operate it properly, then most of time it makes sense. But many people don’t burn dry, seasoned wood and smolder the fire (particularly at night) to keep the burn going. This obviously creates a lot of excess smoke. Sure, the particulate matter settles out fairly quickly, but it does suck breathing it in if you are working outside.

    In densely populated areas burning wood doesn’t really make sense. Aside from the smoke issue, there is the cost of transporting firewood in from the countryside. I don’t have any numbers handy here, but does this add up?

    Also, everybody around here burns wood from live trees that have been cut down (and seasoned). This is the Pacific Northwest and there are a lots of trees here, they grow fast as well. But in other areas trees aren’t as plentiful or grow slowly. I also question the validity of people burning just snags (deadwood)–there aren’t enough of them around for everybody to do it.

    There are no easy answers to what is the “best” way to heat your home. Probably, if you are surrounded by trees it is a great way to go. Not so much if you live in suburbia, and really not if you live in NY city. And one only has to look at places like Greece to see what happens when too many people use too much wood for too long.

    • “And one only has to look at places like Greece to see what happens when too many people use too much wood for too long”.

      Sal,
      Greece and it environs were deforested by too many free range goats (assisted by hogs) rather than for fuelwood.

  28. I have thought about that article a little, and I have realized that the guy who wrote it, and the people who read it and agreed with it, should be our allies. We have similar values, but feel a little attacked because they don’t understand we tend to burn down trees. If we can get these people to understand how farm subsidies have decimated woods and fencerows, and get them to understand how few “live” trees are burned for heat, we could add their voices to ours. I’ve heated my house this winter, and will heat it for the next three winters, from trees I cut up from a half mile fencerow. The farmer allowed me to cut it up AFTER the trackhoe knocked everything down. If someone hadn’t cut it up, it would have gone to waste, still burned. I have seen 25 acre woods bulldozed into tree windrows and just burned so a subsidized crop could be grown on the land. That farmer wouldn’t allow anyone to cut firewood.

    I’m thinking this Louis guy could go a long way to helping people like us spread the word about what farm subsidies result in, to city people who need to understand. His passion, while not in the same direction as ours, is still the same as ours. I’m guessing he likes trees more than ethanol. Maybe we shouldn’t be so smug and defensive, and just explain ourselves. We need friends, and this divide and conquer thing has worked way too long.

  29. You know, Roof, I’ve been having similar thoughts. Let’s face it, sometimes burning wood (especially in a fireplace, which is not the best in terms of pollution), is not a good choice in a heavily urbanized area. But neither is using coal, or electricity generated by coal, and natural gas is not a renewable resource–the “fallout” for these is over the longer term but can be potentially just as destructive. It makes sense to me that on my 160 acres, surrounded by trees, many dead already, the most sensible way for me to heat is with wood and a very efficient wood stove. But for my sister, who lives in the Chico/Marysville/Yuba City area down in the central valley, where they already have problems with air pollution due to inversion layers and stagnation, wood heat probably isn’t the best choice–maybe she should be using solar generated electricity. We would all benefit from some thoughtful discussion about least harmful and most fuel-efficient choices for the various situations in which we live.

  30. Beth, we (as a society) really need to figure out a realistic way to heat with electricity. The problem for most people at this point is that the technology necessary to produce the massive amounts of electricity needed to actually heat a space (i.e. 10 billion watts of solar panels) is pretty unaffordable. The problem is that electric heat is produced precisely by in-efficiency, filaments that don’t conduct very well, and therefore heat up because of resistance. maybe there’s another method of electric heating that I’m not aware of, and that would be great, but either way, there does need to be a change in the comfort level we’ve started to assume is a basic human right. We don’t need to live in stable 70 degree boxes year round, and I’d venture to say that life is a whole lot more gratifying, if a little sweatier, if our dwellings mirror to some extent the temperature fluctuations of the world outside.
    When I walk into a 47 degree house after checking traps in a foot of snow, where the windchill is hovering somewhere beneath 0, I appreciate that temperature difference at least as much as if it were 70 inside. Not to mention the accumulated enjoyment of the other 8 or so months of the year spent gradually building the wood stacks back up, the simple advantage (to my mind, anyway) of only having about 10 square feet of the cabin that are truly warm, encouraging us to sit by the stove and play scrabble in the evening, rather than gravitating toward the colder corner where the television is.

    Its a tricky subject, but I’ll stick with wood just as sure as I’ll fight tooth and nail not to live in an urban center. As for those who prefer urbanity, I’m encouraged that we’re at least thinking about how to best use our resources.

    • John- Electric air-source heat pumps (reverse air conditioners) can be 4x more efficient than electric resistance heating, since its easier to move heat than create it. However, the efficiency of a heat pump decreases with temperature, and at some point (5 degF for mine) they just don’t work. That’s when we get the fireplace really roaring. I’m sure my suburban neighbors don’t like the emissions, but I rarely see them outside, except to run their noisy 2-stroke snowblowers and scrape the snow off their SUVs.

      While the ignorance of many urban folk drives me batty, the us-vs-them attitude country folk have is equally irritating. Farms need customers that aren’t farmers. Wendell Berry wrote a long time ago (The Unsettling of America) that division is used against people in order to sell them things they don’t need: eg, divide the urban population from the source of their food and then sell them “food products”. While it might be hard to stomach, we who have the privilege of knowledge need to reach out to those who simply don’t know any better and heal the divide between the people and the land.

  31. Gene, I guess I’m living a devil’s advocate lifestyle. I’ve been heating with wood for nearly thirty years, and nearly every stick of wood I’ve chunked in both my stove and under my maple evaporating pan has come from a living tree I’ve cut in our thirty acres of woods. Let me explain why it’s green to cut green.

    First, I never cut a tree that would yield a good sawlog. I only cut culls, the crooked and misshapen trees that foresters will tell you to thin out to make room for sound trees. In fact, I make it a point to never cut a tree that is already dead. Dead, dry wood is hard on a chain saw; green wood cuts much easier. However, although I cut green trees for firewood, I don’t burn green wood in the stove. I let it season for at least a year, preferably two. Also, I only cut trees in the winter when it’s cold and most of the sap is down in the roots. This helps speed the curing process. Winter wood cutting is quite pleasurable. Besides, cutting firewood in the summer would just be unbearably hot.

    Second, I like to leave the dead snags as homes and feeding areas for woodpeckers, and for the critters that live in abandoned woodpecker holes. Dead trees no longer take up canopy space from the live trees, so it’s no big deal to leave ‘em be. I’ll even girdle a tree (gasp!) like the invasive nuisance Ailanthus, the so-called Tree-of-Heaven, as a treat for the woodpeckers.

    Third, felling a dead tree is dangerous. They’ve been called widow-makers for good reason. Many a guy has been killed by a falling branch that broke loose from above while he was working on the felling cut. Live trees are much less likely to do this. At the very least, one should always scout any tree, living or dead, for potential dangers before felling it.

  32. Gene,
    Kinda off topic here, but will you write about your farm ponds soon? I’m thinking about digging one of our own and would like your input. I remember reading about your pond(s) in All Flesh is Grass and wonder if you ever built more of them and if so, how did it turn out?
    It was a pleasure to meet you Saturday at OEFFA! To tell the truth, you were the only reason we went this year! (Don’t tell Gordon, my husband!) I only wish that we could’ve had the opportunity to talk more – I have so much to learn!
    SuAnn

  33. To respondents above: All of your comments are extremely helpful and useful to me as I write a book about woodland. I’ve learned from you, and almost always agree with everyone. It is good for you to point out where I don’t tell the whole story, appreciating, I’m sure, the fact that in a short post I can’t say everything I’d like to. I really groove with you Roof, on your observation about farmers cutting down and windrowing acres and acres of woodland and then not allowing anyone to come in and cut firewood, just to grow subsidized corn. That has happened here OFTEN. Farmers tell me when I protest that someone might get hurt and then they’d sue the landowner. It is a crazy world we live in. And Ken McGarry, yes on all accounts. I hardly ever have to cut a dead tree down anymore. I wait till it blows over. And it is good to have some dead ones for woodpeckers and other wildlife. SECook: Not to sound like I’m hawking my books, but I have one called Pond Lovers where I say about everything I know about ponds. And a real old book of mine would be helpful for you if you could find it: Getting Food From Water. And I will no doubt dwell on the subject in future posts. I had visions of putting in two more little ponds, but alas the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yes it was good to see you and so many very nice people at OEFFA. You are all way too kind to me.Austin: loved your comment about using electric gadget to blow snow off the SUV. In my quest to learn how to write like Mark Twain, you guys are teaching me more than he does. Gene

  34. Richard,

    Yes, goats and pigs contributed to the deforestation of Greece, no doubt about that. But they sure weren’t eaten raw, and they couldn’t fire up the barbie to roast ‘em. They were cooked (as with everything else) by wood. Not only that, wood was used for fencing, building (rafters, doors, etc.), you name it. Climate change apparently also played a role. Less rain, hotter. (read, Collapse, by Jared Diamond for a great discussion on how societies can decline from overexploiting their natural resources.)

    But my point was simply that when too much wood is used, and not just for burning, for too long– without proper management– you lose it. I could have explained it better.

    Ken: Right on!

    • Sal,
      I will look into that book, I have seen several references to it.
      You are right, it is about management of the woodlands.
      The damage of goats is in their preventing reforestation. Whitetail deer have done similar damage in parts of PA.

  35. Gene,

    This is off topic, but it relates to your new book.

    I recently ordered “Holy Shit” in book form, and then realized after it was available in e-book format. It wasn’t much cheaper, but I suspect you make more money with the e-book and I prefer that format.

    If it fits with your business plan, perhaps the e-book format could be released first for those that can’t wait with the paper book coming later.

    Given the topic of the new book, there will probably be pictures. I prefer black and white, so that isn’t a problem.

  36. Whether we like it or not, any type of heating involves some sort of deforestation. Solar, wind, coal, wood, whatever, all require land to be clear and open. Being “green” isn’t always the best in the short term. At least we get satisfaction that what we do by the sweat of our brow nurtures and enriches the forest, as well as keeps us warm.

  37. Wood is one heat source you can’t easily cartelize. Look at the list of energy commodities traded on the futures market, and you’ll see where the interests of the NY Times advertisers lie. Coal is not such a big moneymaker for the people who actually mine it or blow up mountaintops – it’s big for the cartel that controls the supply and pricing, and gambles on the price performance in New York and Chicago. Same story with oil, grain and most raw materials – the money’s in the control, not in the production.

    JP Morgan can’t control your access to some dead trees in the back yard, so it has a vested interest to keep you in systems it does control. Hence fake environmentalism, from Nazi Prince Phillip’s WWF and “zero-growth” intelligence fronts like the Club of Rome down to the average deluded yuppie busy thinking about their carbon footprint.

    Most big paper mills operate entirely by combusting the bark and lignin produced from shredding logs, and even re-use the steam to dry paper. I live near a big national laboratory (Argonne) that runs its facilities – including a huge photon accelerator, nanomaterials and computing research, etc. – entirely on wood combustion.

    As you say, Gene – wood grows and dies all the time, and is theoretically an ideal source of energy for certain uses. They key is the technology, which can either be an iron box in your living room or a highly efficient and clean biomass combustor. Banning wood combustion makes almost as much sense as banning carbon dioxide.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090312-wood-power.html

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