Thursday, January 7, 2010

Burning wood for warmth NOT the same as large-scale biomass

I'm a member of a couple of anti-biomass lists and was recently very taken with the following message by Divid Nickell, who lives in a farm in West Kentucky.  With his permission, I'm posting it here.

I live on a farm and my primary source of heat is wood.  All the wood I have burned for the past 25 years or so has been from what fell out in the fields or across fences on its own and had to be cleaned up in order to continue farming--I have felled nothing for the purpose of firewood; whether live or dead.  And I have rarely used an already down tree in the forest; if it doesn't have to be moved to keep my limited farming (raising and training draft horses, and raising their feed) going, I leave it for the bottom feeders that are the foundation of the ecology on my little piece of the world. This means I have burned everything from Oak, Ash, Elm, Hedge Apple, Dogwood, Redbud, Hackberry, Box Elder, Tulip Poplar, Willow, or whatever else the world throws my direction.  So, I guess I use biomass for at least part of my energy consumption.

I also realize that I live in far western Kentucky where natural wild fire is not an issue.  A five or ten acre natural fire is a rare occurrence.  It is humid here in the summer and muddy all winter.  Most of the year you have to work at it to get a fire started.

I would not want for everybody to burn wood for heat.  That would be catastrophic.  I would like to see more people in  similar circumstances to my own try to get away from fossil fuel energy for heat.

BUT, when I think of Biomass as the corporate powers are promoting it, I cannot help but have the image of Easter Island.  As Wendell Berry has said, the fact that we are willing to destroy the world in our effort to sustain a clearly unsustainable lifestyle should give us pause.

"Economy of scale" needs to take on a new meaning, based in the philosophy of the Buddhist economic model outlined in the book, "Small is Beautiful."  When economic rationality is the driving force of what happens, evil is the inevitable outcome.  That is an unpopular thing to say in this culture, but it is the unavoidable truth.

The thing that worries me the most is that the only hope we seem to have is a mass awakening of awareness--an emergence of class consciousness, as another very unpopular philosopher phrased it.  Given the influence of the corporate media promoting corporate strategies, I don't see much hope for that.

My only hope is that dramatic and unexpected changes have taken place throughout history.  Short of quietly waiting for the unexpected to happen, all I can reasonably do is speak out against destruction of that which all life is based upon.  Corporate scale, market driven plans, are always destructive.  I challenge anyone to give me an exception to that rule.  Small, regionally based strategies driven by local cultural knowledge of and care for place are the best answer I see out there.

Biomass makes some sense in limited applications in very localized situations.  As a mass, one size fits all, for profit enterprise, defined by corporations with no concern for any place or any people, it is an abomination that must be opposed with everything we can throw in its path.

I think it is worth remembering that the major obstacle to Henry Ford's new automobiles was that there were no paved roads.  He had to convince local, state and federal governments that it was worth spending massive amounts of society's resources to build paved roads.  His main argument was that automobiles were the solution to pollution.  The main pollution problem of that time was mountains of horse manure in the cities.  Flies spread disease and the stench was overwhelming in the summer.  The exhaust from the new Model T's just blew away.  It seemed, at the time, to be the perfect solution.  We now know it only replaced one problem with a far worse problem.  As Paul Yambert always said, "The first rule of ecology is that there is no such place as 'away'."

Biomass, on a corporate scale with profit as the driving impetus, is just another technological fix, replacing one problem with a far more complex problem for our children to have to deal with.

Just my thoughts...

Photo from Denis Collette...!!!'s photostream at Flickr.

1 comment:

Careful said...

I don't even know wth you're saying. You heat with wood, yet you don't seem to want anyone else to.

There are only 3 sources of power available to us: Solar (and all fossil fuel, all wind power, and most hydroelectric comes from solar), nuclear, and tidal. The best way to store energy (energy density wise) in nuclear, the next is chemically. That means fossil fuels or biomass. I'd rather grow more biomass than mine more coal (which will run out eventually too).