Letter to the Editor - March 30, 2017

Letter to the Editor - March 30, 2017

Dear Editor,

Stove Bullying

Every year around this time I find myself sitting down to console Woody. You see, Woody is being bullied by his cousins, pellet stoves. Oops, I forgot to mention that Woody is our wood stove.

The cousins are tenacious, constantly reminding Woody about his inadequacies, his age, his inefficiencies and bragging about how they are clean, sustainable and carbon neutral. Poor Woody. What to tell him? Well, I thought I should come up with something to prop up his spirits and reassure him that he is still in favor, in some circles.
 Well, it turns out pellets may not be as clean as they think they are. The Biomass Energy Resource Center Annual Report states, “a recognized problem with pellet combustion is the emission of fine particulate matter to the air, especially in urban areas.” Fine particulate matter consists of tiny particles in the air that reduces visibility, causes the air to appear hazy and contributes to respiratory problems. Hmm does this sound familiar anyone?
As well, wood pellets, in particular freshly made, are chemically active and can deplete the atmosphere of the oxygen. According to the journal Biomass and Bioenergy (66), wood pellets can also emit large quantities of poisonous carbon monoxide. When handled, wood pellets give off fine dust which have caused fatal dust explosions. Perhaps Woody is not the only culprit here?
Residents in the southeastern US, the new hotbed for pellet manufacturing, are questioning sustainability as the voracious appetite of European industry for bio fuel decimates their forests. William Schlesinger, professor emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, studies carbon cycles, and he is seeing demand outstrip supply which is leading to whole trees being harvested for EU bio fuel. The increasing hunger of EU industry means that using only wood waste is a thing of the past. To fill that empty EU power plant tummy, whole trees are now being harvested. Evidence of this practice continues to mount in an industry that is poorly regulated and difficult, some argue impossible, to monitor. The Canadian pellet industry is under the same pressure to supply given the EU is the largest importer of Canadian pellets. This is not sounding very sustainable, is it?
When I see nonprofit wood pellet manufacturers aggressively stalking local logging sites for slash, branches and waste and local mills for slab, edging and sawdust, I will take notice. When they are using solar powered picker trucks and transports to move this “waste” to solar powered mills and then shipping product on solar powered container ships, I will take them seriously. Until then, these are corporations with money as the bottom line, not your health. They will continue to use cute slogans that have no meaning. I am sure we can expect to hear, “All Natural, Organic and Guaranteed Wood Waste” in the future, all catchy feel good phrases designed and market tested to make you feel good.
Woody, I can assure you that you only eat wood from trees standing dead, cut, skidded, bucked and split by hand. No big machines, no clear-cuts, no peripheral forest damage, no mills. Now that is carbon neutral!  
And Woody, if they do ban you, rest assured you will not be unceremoniously dumped in the scrap metal heap after your many years of service. You will retire in style as a trendy coffee table or a plant pot, because we are environmentally sensitive out here.

Michael Austin,