Environmentalists often argue over the wisdom of heating homes with wood. Strong arguments can be marshaled on both sides of this debate, so I’ll do my best to represent both positions before summing up.
According to wood-fuel advocates, burning wood is carbon-neutral. While burning wood releases carbon into the atmosphere, the carbon would have been released anyway if the tree had died of old age and rotted on the forest floor.
Here’s how a forest’s carbon cycle works: as trees grow, they sequester atmospheric carbon by converting CO2 in the air to leaves, twigs, and wood. The CO2 isn’t permanently sequestered, however, since virtually all wood (with a few exceptions, like Tutankhamen’s throne) eventually burns or rots. The amount of carbon released by burning is the same as the amount released by rotting.
As long as firewood is sustainably harvested — that is, as long as a logger limits annual cutting to the annual growth of the forest — burning firewood is carbon-neutral.
Wood-stove advocates also point out:
Environmentalists opposed to wood burning often live in congested areas affected by air pollution or in areas where forests are threatened. Seeing trees as precious, they don’t look kindly on logging trucks.
Foes of wood burning point out:
Particulates are probably the most dangerous components of wood smoke. Particulates small enough to enter deep into the lungs are known as PM10 particulates (meaning they have a diameter of 10 microns or less); these are the particulates that are most likely to contribute to lung disease. Those most vulnerable to smoke-related health problems are people with asthma, young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. According to one source, each year in the U.S., particulates from all sources (including vehicle exhaust) are responsible for 30,000 premature deaths from lung disease,…