Environmentalists Love Wood Burning Stoves, But Are They Really "Green?"

The debate over the environmental impact of wood burning stoves has raged for decades. Some think it makes excellent environmental and economic sense. Mark Gunther, an environmental writer, once called it "a green technology that appeals to working class people," and applauded it for creating economic activity.

But is it really that simple? We'll look at both sides of the argument.

Advocates of burning trees as fuel make several points that are worth listening to. It's carbon neutral, they say, and the carbon released from burning wood would be released if the tree died of natural causes and decayed normally on the forest floor.

If the firewood is harvested in a sustainable way, they argue that wood burning for heat is effectively the only carbon-neutral way to heat your home.

Environmental advocates for wood burning stoves do acknowledge that not all wood is created equal. You should buy wood harvested locally and use EPA-certified wood stoves.

But what about the environmentalists who consider burning wood to be a disaster?

The argument to be made against wood burning stoves centers around privilege and key facts ignored.

The entire world, they argue, cannot just switch over to burning wood for heat. In most parts of the world, forests would have to be destroyed faster than they can be grown.

Additionally, they argue, it's not carbon neutral to burn wood as the chain saws used to cut down the trees and the trucks used to transport the wood are not carbon neutral. This undermines the carbon neutrality argument.

Burning wood also increases particulate pollution and can contribute to lung diseases for you and your neighbors.

But is there a middle ground to this debate?

Like most environmental issues, the answer is muddied and complicated. Generally speaking, we encourage people to let trees grow and live naturally and not cut them down unless absolutely necessary.

But weigh your options. Consider your air quality. Consider the ease of obtaining sustainable lumber. Do your research and know what to do.

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