Burning Firewood and the Environment

Before we get into the effects of burning firewood on the environment, we first need to get some biochemistry out of the way. For those of you who are not interested in this kind of science, don’t worry it’s only two short paragraphs and very basic and simple.

Ok here we go…..

In the natural cycle, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. The tree breaks down CO2 into it’s basic elements carbon and oxygen. The tree releases some of the oxygen back into the atmosphere and combines the carbon with other elements to form the mass of the tree.

After the tree dies, which all trees eventually do, it will usually fall to the forest floor and decay or be burned in a wildfire. As a tree decays or burns, oxygen from the air combines with the carbon and other elements in the tree. The oxygen and carbon are converted back to carbon dioxide which is released back into the atmosphere where it came from.

See that wasn’t so bad was it?

What you just read is called the carbon cycle which has been going on since the beginning of life on earth, and will continue. This process is considered carbon neutral which means over time the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere is the same as the carbon being absorbed. What this means is this process does not increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Most people heat their home with fossil fuels which does increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Some believe this is contributing to climate change.

Whether or not you believe this is contributing to climate change, there is a growing trend of people wanting to get away from using non-renewable fossil fuels. From political situations, the environment, rising costs, dependence on other countries and big corporations and governments, to just wanting to do the right thing, there are a lot of good reasons to choose a renewable form of energy.

For many homes firewood can be a practical form of renewable energy for heating. Firewood is a form of renewable biofuel. When you burn wood in your home it releases the same carbon that it would have if left in the forest. Only now the energy stored in the wood is being used to heat your home instead of being released in the forest and gong to waste.

If the firewood was responsibly harvested the tree that was cut will be replaced with new or existing trees that will absorb CO2 from the atmosphere to counteract what you released by burning wood.

If the forest being harvested from is well managed the remaining trees may even absorb more CO2 over time than what was released by burning the tree. this is done by selecting trees and performing silvicultural practices that will result in a forest full of larger faster growing trees than what was originally there.

Read more about how I manage my own forest land and harvest wood products in this way.

What About Pollution from Wood Smoke?

Wildfires have been burning across the earth for much longer than humans have been around. Because of this, wood smoke is a natural part of the earth’s cycle and nature has adapted to it. Since humans started suppressing natural wildfires the earth may have less wood smoke in the atmosphere now than it did centuries ago.

Burning wood does release some pollutants into the atmosphere, but they are similar to the type of pollutants that would be released by nature if the wood was left in the forest to burn in a wildfire.

With modern wood stoves and responsible wood burning practices, emissions can be greatly reduced. With dry wood and a well designed modern stove wood can be burned with almost no visible smoke or particles.

If you burn responsibly firewood can be one of the better choices for home heating and the environment.

Ways to Burn Wood Responsibly

  • Choose firewood that comes from a responsibly harvested source
  • Burn only dry well seasoned wood
  • Use well designed low emission stoves
  • Build smaller but intense fires using smaller pieces of firewood

One thought on “Burning Firewood and the Environment”

  1. Thanks for the information and a good article! I was reading about a new company called re:char and I was curious to see why a new company, hugely marketed just now, is needed to sell people worldwide a process that has probably been around since the discovery of fire :o)

    I understand the concept of carbon neutral better now but not how the population explotion and the drive for constant energery may be tipping the balance from carbon neutral into invasive and damaging, especially in places like Africa where trees are not being replaced and so many more are burning wood for energy. I’m wondering if that charcoal there can be used for soil enhancement in the same way that the re:char equipment will do it or what the difference would be?

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