EDITORIAL: Smoking out wood burners

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And when it’s smoke from a wood stove, a bit of heat, as well.

Winter’s arrival on Vancouver Island has brought with it the annual critique of particulate pollution — particularly from wood-burning stoves and furnaces still used to heat many homes in Parksville Qualicum Beach and across the Island.

It may seem the more vehement and vocal critics of the health risks associated with wood smoke are crying that the sky is falling. What they’re really saying is that dangerous byproducts of wood burning are falling from the sky.

They’re not alone.

Island Health medical health officer Paul Hasselback has shared dire statistics and confirmed that Island communities would be well-served to wean themselves from wood in the interest of public health.

And now the government of British Columbia has come down on the same side of the argument. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has announced a new incentive program to coax wood stove users to switch to other forms of home heating, including electric heat pumps, gas or propane stoves or pellet-burning stoves.

The program is an expansion of the province’s 11-year-old wood stove exchange program, which provided rebates for those who exchange their old, inefficient wood stoves for newer, cleaner-burning models. Under the program announced last week, the wood stove rebate remains, but the dollar amount jumps for those willing to scrap wood altogether.

Since the earliest humans discovered the benefits of fire, wood has been used as a heating source. While technological advances over the centuries shifted large-scale energy sources to everything from coal and whale oil to electricity, fuel oil, natural gas and even nuclear power, many societies with easy and abundant access to wood continue to burn it.

And it is hardly more abundant and easy to gather than here on Vancouver Island.

Any eventual shift away from wood burning is likely to be a long-term project combining education, municipal or higher government bylaws and regulations, and incentives of the type rolled out by the B.C. government last week.

In the meantime, the least we can do is to take steps to mitigate the potential and actual risks of particulate-producing appliances. In addition to the government program, other incentives for exchanges or upgrades may be offered by BC Hydro, Fortis and even some manufacturers.

Even if it’s simply a matter of exchanging that old, inefficient stove for a newer, cleaner-burning model, you can save money and/or time on wood gathering while improving your home’s heat and air quality. And helping all of us breathe a little easier.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News

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