I love this so much, it’s hard to take these new facts

The Good Life Letter 

25th January 2019

  • Read this if you have a wood burning stove or open fire
  • This might annoy you, but even I had to examine my own view
  • Why it’s not all bad news, unless you live in London

We humans are a flawed bunch.

Whilst we have amazing abilities to adapt, survive and create, we can also be stubborn.

Even against our best interests.

For instance, when we are presented with facts that threaten the way we live, we tend to ignore them… or get angry… or do everything we can to build an alternative view from whatever scraps of statistics and opinion we can find.

This happens a lot with health issues.

When we are told that something we love is bad for us or bad for the environment, we can sometimes take it the wrong way – like it’s an attack on our values or our culture.

Instead of considering the facts and making some alterations to our lives, many of us dig our heels in.

One of the big flaws with humans is that once we make a decision we tend to stick with it… and when someone argues against it with facts that contradict us, instead of changing, we become more entrenched in our view.

So why am I telling you this?

Well, you might think I am talking about Brexit or Trump here but in fact I am talking about MYSELF and wood burners.

The problem with wood burners

Way back, I wrote to you about my own wood burner and how I love it dearly.

One of my readers challenged me on this, explaining that wood burners were really unhealthy.

I love my wood burner and, while I am fully aware that they emit smoke, I felt like it was something I could always enjoy for its warmth, atmosphere and that wonderful ritual of lighting it up on a freezing evening.

So I suggested that there were other more pressing health concerns that we should worry about.

My reader replied:

“I don't want to be a spoilsport, but log burners are increasing in vast numbers in areas where there is no need for them, such as areas with a good gas supply, and gas log and coal effect fires are very good these days.

I grew up in the Midlands where open fires were the norm, so I know how appealing they are, but there wasn't much of an alternative, or central heating in those days. You only have to look at the blackened state of the buildings and the smog that came every year in winter to know they weren't healthy.”

They directed me to the latest flurry of articles on the subject, in the wake of environment secretary Michael Gove’s statement that legislation was due which would control the use of open fires and wood burning stoves.

The reason being that they cause 38% of ‘damaging particulate matter’ in Britain and are becoming a serious pollution problem in cities.

My reader added:

“I think you should be just as concerned about its findings as you are with the over use of statins and other drugs that are forced on the British people, at least the use of these meds doesn't affect their family members, neighbours, or vast areas of our towns, unlike wood burners.”

And it’s a good point…

Perhaps I’ve been a bit hypocritical here

As you know, I try to fight some of the tactics used by the food and pharmaceutical industries to blind ordinary people to the truth about what they put in their bodies…

And I’m always going on about knowing all the facts and views so that you can be empowered to make wise decisions.

But there I was, ignoring something that I enjoyed in my own life, and not paying the same diligence. I was ignoring facts which challenged something I really loved.

Yet that’s what I advise you, isn’t it?

Whether its ready meals, breakfast cereals, or white bread…

Or statins, sleeping pills and painkillers…

Or watching TV late or spending too much time on your smartphone…

Sometimes you have to moderate and change your behaviour in order to live a longer, healthier, happier life – and that can be hard to do.

The problem with stoves and open fires is the burning of wet, unseasoned woods. With wet wood where the moisture is over 20%, large amounts of harmful particles are belched out.

In the UK an estimated 1.5 million households burn wood – yet these stoves can emit more particles every hour than a diesel truck.

Now, you may be like me and think “I love my fire and I’m not giving it up or being told what to do”.

Well, if you live in London – and possibly some of the other big cities – you may find that a new clean air act bans it.
However, for the rest of the country, what is most likely is that…

•    Only smokeless coal will be allowed; all other types of household coal will be phased out entirely.

•    The law may enforce you to install an approved low-emission stove.

•    Vendors who sell wood for burning will have to become ‘Woodsure approved’ and sell only wood with 20% or less water content. This will likely lower supply, raise demand and hike up the price of wood.

You may see more of those briquettes and heat logs with a moisture content of 6% or less on sale.

So you won’t have to give up the pleasure entirely…

As with diet and other health issues, you may simply have to adapt to the new reality by moderating use, being aware of the risks and trying some healthy alternatives that could come at a higher cost.

My view is that, outside of cities like London, people should be given all the health and environmental facts, so that they can decide for themselves how often they burn wood in the home.

Then there should be healthier options made available – and affordable – so that we can enjoy the occasional fire without being anti-social.

You may have very strong views on this, which is fine. I expect this may be quite an emotive issue for home fire lovers – and believe me, I consider the joy of staring into real flames in a cosy room on a cold night as one of my favourite pleasures in life.

But I’m prepared to move with the times and reconsider this entrenched view, as I am with many other health issues.

Worth thinking about anyway.

Yours, as always

Ray Collins

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