Monday, April 19, 2010

wood smoke and moonshine

Ok, these aren't fully formed thoughts, yet, but here goes:

The fight over wood smoke pollution out west gives some interesting data for this earth day week 2010. I got curious about the relative pollution thanks to an overly dramatic sermon yesterday, and a reply to a sarcastic Tweet.

“What if,” I pondered during the drivel, “we used renewable wood instead, since nuclear is eeeeevil and oil is the deeeevil?” Of course, I had some ideas about the answer…and I was pretty accurate in my thoughts, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.

I found this little article about how our pristine indigenous folks actually did some clearing and burning, which lead to me to do some math. The number of US households is about 115 million, and the population about 300 million (okay 309+). If the pre-Columbian estimate in the article is accurate, let’s make a reasonably fair hypothesis that the # of households was about a third of that, so 100 million / 3 = 33.3 million.

Now, if I follow the math of the Puget Sound Clear air group’s website cited here that uncertified outdoor wood burning stoves produce about 1000 times to output of an oil furnace (much less fireplaces vs. gas furnaces) the wood smoke of those 33.3 million pre-Columbian households heating their homes in winter is comparable to the particulate output of more than 33.3 billion oil furnaces. Yes, that’s right 33.3 billion. Looking at gas furnaces, the number jumps up to almost 1500 times, or nearly 58 billion needed to produce the particulate pollution of our pre-Columbian inhabitants.

Winter would have been very ugly indeed.

This brings a gazillion questions to mind, right?

First and foremost, where does our automotive exhaust fit in to the scenario? No clue. What about the particulates from power plants? Ditto.

But I bet they are less than we think, as we have made great strides in being cleaner about that (and as a developed nation, we can afford the technology, which many countries can’t: more on that later).