Burning trees

There was a time when I enjoyed laying up wood for the winter fire. I would go into the woods to look for trees with signs of demise. Maples with dead limbs often were hollow, leaving a heavy shell of would-be human and, sometimes, field mice, comfort on dark frigid nights.

It was often said that cutting winter firewood warmed the woodsman twice – once as he cut, split and stacked, and once when he set the fire.

There also was a time when I did not enjoy the chore, when I was a lad with fishing and woods-wandering on my mind and my parents were seemingly dedicated to making my youthful personage miserable with assignments of work that needed to be done.

I have often wondered, when the trait no longer applied to me, why young people can be so helpful in other homes and so loath to assist at home. Thus I would clean Mrs. Crocker’s henhouse, churn her butter and cut her hay, but hate the thought of similar tasks awaiting my attention at home.

It was much later in life, my Navy career behind me when I found the willing ambition to, for instance, fell trees and drag them out of the woods, then to perform the other steps preparing them for their destiny.

Back then, we gave no thought to carbon sequestration or air pollution. Gasoline was about 25 cents a gallon, probably about the same portion of an hour’s wage as it is now. The family chariot got about 10-12 miles a gallon, but the supply seemed unlimited, so the only worry was paying Charlie Bates to do the annual carbon-and-valve job – cleaning the crust of unburned gasoline from the engine’s innards.

Then came 1964. I was a junior in high school and visited the World’s Fair in New York City, where General Electric touted the wonders of the all-electric home. Electricity was plentiful, GE told us, and cheap and would run the washing machine and heat the home and free up lots of clean leisure time for the homeowner and his wife.

Electricity’s cleanliness was not something we worried about in 1964 – that concern came later. Even so, many generator plants have converted to natural gas, making them cleaner, but far from clean.

A standard complaint among folks who electrified their homes was that it ceased being cheap as soon as everyone’s home was wired. Create demand while controlling the supply and you can name your price.

The big commercial electricity generators are guaranteed a return on investment that is a percentage of the money they spend on maintenance and improvements. Thus they have no clear reason to hold costs down when their profits depend on spending as much as possible. Meanwhile, they use the Public Utilities Commission, which in theory must approve any utility rate increases, as a smokescreen to disguise those high-cost-equals-high-profit contracts.

It is like a wage earner being paid more to burn premium gasoline in a gas hog rather than profiting by driving a high-mileage car that runs on regular-grade fuel, thus increasing profits by holding costs down.

Placing solar panels on our roofs – especially the normally flat tops of schools and other industrial buildings – likely will not be the sole way to clean electricity but they will put to use all that otherwise wasted impervious surface. It also will decentralize our electrical grid, making more difficult the job of hackers who want to shut down our grid.

Axios reported Wednesday night: “Studies show current levels (of planet warming carbon dioxide) are higher than any time in as long as 4.5 million years.” We must make our world run cleaner.

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