Heat and labour (and fitness)

“ Wood warms you twice: the first time by cutting trees, and second time by burning it.” Recently I came again across this citation by Thoreau, in a review of a book on lumberjack’s . (Always wanted to be one…:-) The Thoreau quote is essentially a beautiful thought. But at the same time: burning wood? In 2016? It still happens in a lot of regions, think of many Africans still cooking on wood, or using it for heating as well. And even in our industrialised world there is a come back, in the form of wood pellet stoves: wood blocks or pellets ready made and bought in a shop. Without the effort of chopping it yourself of course. Where they come from, and how they ended up in that form in your shop, is out of sight. If children are not aware anymore where the food comes from, that milk is from a cow grazing in the meadows ( …) , then the wood pellets are the adult variation: people hardly aware that forest has been cut for it, which grew for years on a valuable piece of land, where nature automatically , without further investment has converted solar energy in useful material. : For your house, the toys of your children, the dining room table, ( I hope you have a wood table, and not a climate devastating metal table) . It does not accidentally ends up in a shop.

Nowadays the first part of the citation is forgotten, and we focus on the second part: the burning of wood, in biomass energy plants, as pellets in a stove. We focus on end of pipe solutions, especially to combat climate change.: we look at green house gas emissions, or CO2 emissions, and how we can replace fossil fuels , from oil coal and gas to renewables, but with the same amount of energy. Hardly anyone focuses on not using energy, avoiding the need…if its about burning wood, its forgotten that ‘not-burning’ – using the wood – stores the CO2 in stead of releasing it. If the wood is used as a beam in your house for 50 years at first, it has avoided other material use, stored CO2 while the heating capacity by burning still remains intact! This in contradiction to all non renewable materials, like minerals and metals. It has (fossil) energy invested in the processing and there is no way of regaining that again.

A common argument to burn biomass is that it does not add to the CO2 emissions, since its was stored first. This is essentially what biomass does. But burning and releasing it nevertheless adds to the CO2 emissions: it was not in the atmosphere, and is released by burning and adding again to climate change. Just like fossil fuels: its stored CO2 in biomass , and is released by burning. People forget that thanks to fossilization of biomass in oil gas and coal, the atmosphere on earth developed in a way that evolution could prosper. No wonder releasing it change that climate again…

In fact I now realize, the most effective way of Carbon capture and storage CSS, is to have fossils fuels remain in the soil…

The advantage of wood is just that it has stored CO2 for longer time. There is some awareness on this issue in the building sector, but then often follows another cunning arguing: If we don’t burn it we can use the fibers to sustain other materials: like in concrete. It stores CO2 in the material, is the arguing. Now this is weird framing: The CO2 was already stored, before the wood was destroyed to green a high impact material. Why would you use it to green a concrete wall ( for instance) where you could have made a wall directly from wood? Without any further processing, and extra losses?

The first part of Thoreau’s citation usually stays out of sight nowadays. But have another look at the the part on wood cutting: It dates from before the industrial revolution, and what behind is, yes, labour. That the wood heats you afterwards would be a nice concept, except that we do anything to make labour superfluous . Since the wood is harvested by big machines . And therefor more fossil fuel use and CO2 emission, leading to complaining that climate changes. Or that we grow fat by doing noting.

When I realised this for the first time I applied it to my garden. Some years ago, I bought from a local harvester 1 m3 of chopped wood for my stove used I spring an autumn. And once in a few years I had a local gardener to maintain my garden, he pruned trees, and took the tree branches with him. At the same time I went weekly a few times to the fitness centre to keep my belly in shape. And I realised: I pay money for someone else pruning the trees, and pay money for someone else to deliver me wood, and I pay someone else to heat a room where I can fitness. The solution was simple: Cut the trees yourself, chop the wood. Three birds killed with one stone. Not that I am that good at it, and not that I always feel like doing it, but in fact a variation on my home is my castle: My garden is my fitness centre , as well as my energy ad materials supply.

It also saves a lot of money, for which I therefore have to work less hours…

Well, you say, but what about the (financial) economy, the gardener being jobless, sitting on the couch and growing obesity… Nonsense of course. The idea is that also in professional sectors this kind of arguing should be applied. More labor in stead of machines. There are many examples , in agriculture in this case, where ecological and more labor intensive framing is raising the same yields or more, besides all the other advantages. [1] The gardener can find a job there. Why would me make all labour superfluous? This is exclusively strived for by employers, that want to cut costs, money wise. And every strike for saving labour or increased payment is answered by more people layed of, since that cuts the risks of a next strike. Ad thats how employers challenge each other in the market. They want to eliminate labour a s a unsecure factor. [2] In fact employers are job killers. And therefor eliminating labour as a renewable resource.

But only the employers profit from this, not the society, our common interest. The Society even has a opposite interest, but is paying for innovation in automation and robotising while also paying for unemployed people. How schizophrenic. Anyway, we were talking wood and heat…. But in fact it was about labour. And labour heats : its heartwarming. But then: only burning and heating yourself, when the wood is hand cut. Then Thoreau can make a come back.

[1] Michael Pollan, The omnivore’s dilemma, 2006 by The Penguin Press

[2] Jeremy Rifkin, The zero marginal cost society, 2014 ISBN: 978-1-137-27846-3

Author: ronald rovers