Woodburning Stoves

Wood is the oldest method of heating, but after inventing hugely sophisticated systems over the last hundred years, we now find ourselves going back to basics and seeing that the simplest is the best. I’m building a house, and in it, I will be installing a wood-burning stove. I’ve been wondering whether that’s the best system possible, both from an economic and eco-conscious point of view.

The conclusions are uncertain, even having conducted a little analysis, and despite going ahead with this decision perhaps it’s a question of form. One thing is clear. I no longer want to be tributary to the big energy networks. From an environmental impact point of view, wood-burning and thus wood production feels more ecological, since it is renewable, unlike oil, gas and coal. But it still depends on a distribution network, since I don’t have the five acres necessary to supply my wood.

The critical decision for me now is what wood to buy or should I say wood pellets, since my stove burns wood pellets which in themselves have a production cost. However, my life is inconsistent with logwood burning, and prefer, for ease, to switch on my heating, rather than stoke a fire every morning. However, I do have a choice in what wood pellets to buy. I can choose locally produced wood from renewable sources.

Energy production

What of all the other methods of energy production available? Indeed, is this even the right question? We should be asking a different matter. Not energy production but how do we keep warm in winter, what energy will we use for cooking, lighting, and electricity?Iit is more pertinent to talk about energy production, but we must also be thinking of energy conservation, usage, expenditure, wastage, conservation and our general impact on the world.

The analysis of energy production systems available in the 21st century is wide-ranging. There are many texts, books, sites, organisations, political movements, green organisations that know full well the methods available, their relative benefits and impacts. Most people, I’m sure are aware of these. But today, there is no political will to move to environmental practices. There is too much dependency on profit. The State is involved in energy production in all countries, since in our earliest development. We needed energy, and we needed energy production methods.

We developed whichever ones we could, and we were probably not conscious of the impact in the beginning. Their usage became widespread and extensive. Cities found themselves under layers of smog. This required action, so we closed the coal mines. If there is awareness now of the necessity to respect the environment, we are deeply dependent on energy consumption. Until that changes, little else can.

Changing attitudes

Until we change our attitude, until we stop talking about growth, making more, using more, getting bigger, getting better, it is unlikely that we can fit into the natural scheme. Indeed our very numbers on this planet almost preclude it. It is likely that when the fuel runs out, the number of people will reduce.

As a consequence of Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the theory of entropy, the energy system will balance itself out by reducing the energy consumers to match the energy output. So, once the fuel runs out, energy output will reduce, no matter what other energy production methods we can implement. We can only hope that it happens gradually and naturally.

Whatever happens we will be obliged to adapt, since despite man’s illusion of grandeur. And despite his vision of mastering all things, his destiny, his surroundings and even the planet itself, the fuel will run out, whether it be in 100, 200 or 500 years.

A Doomsday view?

False, perhaps, since we will be able to invent new methods to add to the emerging ones. But population will level off not due to politics but by a natural order, by the limits of available heat and light energy, food, clothing, transport, or materials. We will be obliged to recycle. It is just a question of when and how much and how quickly we will understand the need.

The odd thing is that we have spent so long trying to distance ourselves from our past, that we have hardly noticed the full circle coming around. We burnt wood in our medieval times; we didn’t have the sense or the technology to insulate them properly to minimise the needs for fuel.

Recycling was commonplace; we reused things, we made compost and used it to grow our vegetables. We used water from the stream without thinking about its pollution. Now we cannot because so many sources of pollution find their ways into our waterways. This may be chemicals from farming or industry or just someone dumping paint in the woods because they didn’t want to pay the fees in the dump. Humanity will continue despite predictions in the Domesday book, Nostradamus, David Icke or Paco Rabanne, but we will have to find a way forward in the best possible conditions.

Progress or regress?

How can we move forward in time, preserving our way of life while respecting our environment? The first thing is to understand that our environment is there for us to use, but not to consume. Medieval wood crofters understood this.

They took just enough wood, and everyone understood that. No one would come around and cut more than necessary. They know that if they did, they would be none for anyone else. The question is using the environment wisely, letting our resources grow back. Our usage is too intensive today. We are too greedy. The symbol of this is undoubtedly our greed in supermarkets. Why do slogans such as ‘new’, ‘better’, ‘bigger’, new colours and brighter packaging draw us in?

Where have healthy and wholesome values gone? Why do we need 15 flavours? Indeed why do we need flavours at all? Couldn’t we content ourselves with taste? But it still depends on a distribution network, since I don’t have the five acres necessary to supply my wood. The critical decision for me now is what wood to buy or should I say wood pellets, since my stove burns wood pellets which in themselves have a production cost.

However, realistically, I live a life inconsistent with logwood burning, and prefer, for ease, to switch on my heating, rather than stoke a fire every morning. However, I do have a choice in what wood pellets to buy. I can choose wood produced locally, and I can verify that it is renewable. What of all the other methods of energy production available?

Indeed, is this even the right question? We should be asking a different issue. Not energy production but how do we keep warm in winter, what energy will we use for cooking, lighting, and electricity? Once we have asked these questions, it is more pertinent to talk about energy production. But we must also be thinking of energy conservation, usage, expenditure, wastage, continuity and our general attitude and awareness to our impact on the world.

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