My wood stove makes me happy. That may sound pathetic, but that wood stove gives so much intense satisfaction that it is not that exaggerated. Sure, firing the wood produces a lot of hassle, a lot of work and effort, but it's all worth it.

Well considered, that effort and that work is part of the happiness.

Civilian trammelant around wood burning

And the societal trammelant who has recently been swelling around the domestic wood because of the air pollution? The wood-burning stove must be discouraged, the Houtrook and Health Platform said in a letter to the government at the beginning of this year. The GGD Amsterdam and my own environmental protection (where I have been freelance for work for years) even advocate a ban.

It is not pleasant to be put into the environmental corner as a green citizen. But as with so many social discussions, in the case of polarization something is lost to nuances in this case. Or even all sorts of important things remain completely out of the picture. By destroying the wood-burning stove something valuable is disqualified, of which we already have so little left in today's society.

Paradisiacal result

At the end of the first Saturday of January I have been broken. Then I have the most important chopping day of the season behind me. From January to mid-March - when the breeding season starts again - with a team of men on Saturday morning we saw trees in a swampy forest, half a kilometer from home. Especially birch and alders we saw, sometimes an ash or an oak. Until about fifty years ago, especially those alders were often sawn off: the farmers used the coppice for tools such as brooms and branches for the stove.

With the modernization of agriculture and agricultural lifestyles, the coppice work also came to a standstill. The alder forest grew close. At the request of the local nature and landscape organization we have taken up the coppicing in their forest: every year we saw a few rows of trees. With visible result. There has been a lot more variation and natural richness in the forest. In the summer it is heavenly with flowering foxglove, fluttering butterflies and fast-roaming roe deer that come nibbling from the freshly sprouted elder twigs. 

As a thank you for the maintenance of the landscape, hobby lumberjacks are allowed to take the wood home with us. That is easier said than done. Sawing yourself is a job, not too harmless, because you will not survive a falling tree on your head. The lashing of strains fallen into the water. Carrying the trunks over the swampy forest ground. Transporting the logs home, where the gorge work still awaits. Every year my back seems to find the logging work a bit less fun. Yet it is great to work in the cold winter air after a working week behind the laptop in the cold winter air. With not only a saved gym, but also a warm house as a reward.

An incomparable warmth

A festive moment is the first time in the season every year, somewhere in October, when we light the wood-burning stove . If the sun loses power, we ignite the sun indoors. That is what it boils down to, because wood is  stored solar energy, such as oil, gas and coal. With the difference that fossil fuels were built millions of years ago and are now running out in no time. My solar energy has grown back into the alder chopping forest in twenty to thirty years. So also with that difference that my wood-burning stove runs on renewable energy, which on balance can not be called CO2 emissions and climate-friendly.

My soapstone stove, which heats the entire ground floor, is also an efficient stove, especially compared to fireplaces and other wood stoves, so I have more than half my gas bill. In the morning I burn the stove very hot. The heat in the stove is largely transferred to the four hundred kilos of stones inside. Those stones then give off the heat during the day, even if the stove has not burned for a long time.

A pleasant warmth, moreover, not at all comparable with that of the central heating. The 'convection heat' of the heating system hangs - very inefficiently - against the ceiling, circulates the air and thus also the dust: no wonder that so many people have respiratory problems in winter. The radiant heat of the stove immediately enters your body and creates a pleasant and healthy indoor climate. Where all housemates often sit elsewhere in the house or garden during the heating period, they now clump together in the vicinity of the stove. My wood stove works as a social magnet.

Responsible heating

And the neighbors? They also have a wood stove themselves, so villagers who suffer from chimney smoke are not familiar to me. Also by wise burning . Cork-dry wood: after chopping it will be dry for two years, even though it is not even necessary for birch and alder wood. And ensures that drying for a logistic puzzle and multi-year planning: stacks on which work is being done, piles of which are fired and stacks that are resting. It all fits right.

But admittedly, even though I have such an efficient stove and I burn with dry wood: mine too will emit a bit of soot and fine dust. Many times less than many other stoves, fire pits or fireplaces ; I think they should ban those fireplaces - where 90 percent of the heat goes into the chimney pain. And imposing strict requirements on heating behavior is also not a bad idea. 

In Norway, where wood is fired on a much larger scale than in the Netherlands, it used to be a practice to shut down the air supply of the wood stove at night in order to stifle the fire. So that fire kept smoldering all night and in the morning everything had to be turned up. But with a black soot blanket over the urban areas, because that smothering causes incomplete combustion. That is no longer allowed in Norway: it must be used responsibly 

Side effects

Prohibiting all wood stoves, such as GGD Amsterdam and environmental protection suggest, would be a mistake. The point is:  there is no such thing as a free lunch . In the generation of energy we always pay with side effects, including impact on the (living) environment. It is important to limit this impact. The CV runs (usually) on fossil fuels that are once exhausted and cause climate change. We have to get rid of that.

But sustainable alternatives are also not without side effects. With the twelve solar panels on my roof, we generate two thirds of the electricity we use at home. At the same time I realize that the Chinese factories where these panels are made are notorious for their environmental pollution, not to mention working conditions and political oppression. Wind turbines have their impact on the landscape, for water dams entire landscapes are destroyed and population groups are deported. Heat pumps are electricity giants and cause noise nuisance.

Call me an energy source without side effects. You too, Orthodox woodburners: where is your side effect? Because I do not assume that you are in the cold in the winter? It is an illusion to think that there are no hooks and eyes on the much-needed alternatives. This is also why it remains necessary to reduce total energy consumption.

Proud lumberjack

My wood-burning stove is for me connected with nature and landscape conservation, climate-friendly energy supply, physical activity, living comfort, community spirit, living with the seasons, involvement with my environment and autonomy. I am proud to provide a crucial basic need with my own physical work: warmth in the winter. I take my responsibility. A real man, if you like, something that appeals to many, according to the enormous popularity of Lars Myttings book 'The man and the wood', in which he reports extensively on chopping and stacking and responsible heating. Also for tough woodcutter, by the way.

The nice thing is that something is unambiguous and basal: chopping wood so that you do not get cold in winter. It is straight. Authentic. Non-alienating. Autonomous. Together with what people in your neighborhood provide for a basic need, without the intervention of money economy or bureaucracy. A form of 'conviviality', the Austro-Croatian-Mexican thinker and priest Ivan Illich would have said. "Tools with which people have the right to work with independent efficiency." A minimum of such techniques is necessary if people are to feel well, Illich thought. He found that direct, physical involvement in your environment, which also cares for you, represents a crucial 'ethical value' that has been completely covered in post-industrial society.

With satisfaction I throw a few logs in the stove, to warm me to the oldest energy source on earth.

Above article by Michiel Bussink appeared on 6 October 2018 in the newspaper Trouw. Michiel Bussink (1968) is a journalist and author of, among other things, 'Ik eet, dus ik ben', 'Lekker Landschap' and 'Eten uit de buurt'.