Woodburning Stoves

By | February 26, 2012

Woodburning is the oldest heating method, 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’m going to be installing a woodburning stove. I’ve been wondering whether that’s the best heating system possible, both from an economic and ecological point of view.

The conclusions are uncertain, even having done 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 ecological impact point of view, woodburning and thus wood production certainly feels more ecological, since it is a product that can be renewed, 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, 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 locally-produced wood from renewable sources.

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? 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, renewability and our general attitude and awareness to our impact on the world.

The analysis of the different methods of energy production available to us in the 21st-century is a wide-ranging subject. There are many texts, books, sites, organisations, political movements, green organisations that know full well all of the methods available and their relative benefits and impacts. Most people, I’m sure are aware of most of the methods listed here. But today, there is no political will to move to environmental practices. There is too much dependency on profit. The State, in all countries, is implicated in energy production 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, not until their usage became so widespread and extensive. Suddenly, when cities found themselves under layers of smog, something had to be done: 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.

Until we change our attitude to consumption, 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, and 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, his imaginary vision of mastering all things, his destiny, his surroundings and even the planet itself, and despite his unwillingness to accept the natural order, 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 existing and emerging ones. But there will be limits to population growth, not set by politics but by the natural order itself which will limit population by the limits of energy available, whether in the form of heat and light, 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.

We recycled without calling it recycling; 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, whether it be chemical 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 and the human race 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, not all of it and everyone understood that. No one would come around and cut more than necessary because they knew that if they did, they would be none for anyone. The question is using the environment but using it wisely, in such a way that there will be more tomorrow because we have let it grow back. Our usage is too intensive today. We are too greedy. The symbol of this is undoubtedly our greed in supermarkets. How can we be convinced by slogans such as “new”, “better”, “bigger”, new colours and brighter packaging?

Where have healthy and wholesome values gone? Why do we need 15 flavours? Indeed why do we need flavours at all? Could we not just 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, renewability and our general attitude and awareness to our impact on the world.

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