Firewood and Climate Change

September 12th, 2013, 1pm

For the last 35 years, I’ve lived on a five acre block of land, mostly wooded, that borders on the Otways National Park. For the first decade or so we heated the house solely with firewood grown on the property, but now we use native forest timbers from managed Eucalyptus woodlots. I burn the wood in a Canadian-made heater, circular and glass enclosed, that sits in the middle of the living room giving everyone front row access. What joy (and warmth) it brings at every stage of the process: gathering kindling, splitting and stacking firewood, igniting the carefully arranged kindling, poking the fire regularly just to show it who’s boss, adding logs at careful intervals considering precisely the size, shape and density required to keep the coals happy. At bedtime, I enjoy the ritual of banking the coals and ashes, then closing down the damper, not too much, not too little. All this brings such pleasure that I haven’t really wanted to confront the issue of how much this practice must surely worsen the most significant crisis in human history: CLIMATE CHANGE.

Recently, I looked into the matter more thoroughly, and hey! The news turns out to be good. In sustainably grown forests, trees that are cut down, then regrown again in a continuous cycle, absorb most of the carbon dioxide (green house gasses) emitted during the harvesting and burning of the firewood. The process is virtually carbon neutral. These trees then release oxygen into the atmosphere as well as storing carbon (like in the vast root systems that are left underground), resulting in a reduction in greenhouse gases when houses switch from heating with fossil fuels to heating with wood.

When used to generate energy, fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas release carbon as carbon dioxide from sources that have taken millions of years to accumulate. They cannot be replenished in anything less than geological timescales. Trees grow back quickly. They are beautiful. And I am healthier (and happier) for all the energy I expend in the process.

Admittedly, the calculations are a little more complicated than presented here, but in places where people can still live on a small acreage, growing and burning wood is an affordable, efficient and sustainable alternative to conventional heating. Of course, these calculations bear little relevance for city folk. Solar, wind, tides, etc. good design and conservation are the solutions there.

I’m usually a little suspicious of industrial propaganda, but I think the Australian Firewood Association tells the story pretty fairly:

And I love the ‘folksy’ note they end on: “So, if you love a wood fire, whether for warmth, flavoursome food, or its mood changing ambience, relax - because you are also doing the best you can for the environment.”

Craig, Chris, Cassie, Lia and 1 more said thanks.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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