Fire

There is nothing to compare with the comfort and heat from a wood fire. It’s natural, renewable, and promoted by many in the environmental movement. In a home heated by a wood stove, people tend to gravitate towards the heat.

Most of us also know that wood stoves can be deadly. Every year, people are killed in home fires caused by improperly installed stoves or uncleaned chimneys. In  tightly clustered communities, the damage easily spreads throughout the neighbourhood. The unseen danger from wood stoves is the pollution. The smell that attracts us to cluster around a fire also kills us, especially if we already suffer from COPD.

Sam Harris uses  this ‘Wood Stove Delusion” as an introduction to discuss other delusions we may hold.

In the developing world, the burning of solid fuel in the home is a genuine scourge, second only to poor sanitation as an environmental health risk. In 2000, the World Health Organization estimated that it caused nearly 2 million premature deaths each year—considerably more than were caused by traffic accidents.

I suspect that many of you have already begun to marshal counterarguments of a sort that will be familiar to anyone who has debated the validity and usefulness of religion. Here is one: Human beings have warmed themselves around fires for tens of thousands of years, and this practice was instrumental in our survival as a species. Without fire there would be no material culture. Nothing is more natural to us than burning wood to stay warm.

True enough. But many other things are just as natural—such as dying at the ripe old age of thirty. Dying in childbirth is eminently natural, as is premature death from scores of diseases that are now preventable. Getting eaten by a lion or a bear is also your birthright—or would be, but for the protective artifice of civilization—and becoming a meal for a larger carnivore would connect you to the deep history of our species as surely as the pleasures of the hearth ever could. For nearly two centuries the divide between what is natural—and all the needless misery that entails—and what is good has been growing. Breathing the fumes issuing from your neighbor’s chimney, or from your own, now falls on the wrong side of that divide.

Wood stoves and furnaces spread the particulates further than cigarettes, therefore causing harm to a larger number of people. The smoke from your stove or fireplace can affect an entire neighbourhood. Harris goes on:

I suspect that many of you have already begun to marshal counterarguments of a sort that will be familiar to anyone who has debated the validity and usefulness of religion. Here is one: Human beings have warmed themselves around fires for tens of thousands of years, and this practice was instrumental in our survival as a species. Without fire there would be no material culture. Nothing is more natural to us than burning wood to stay warm.

If you have ever debated this, and raising children with asthma means I have been having this debate for 25 years, the next argument is always that newer stoves and tighter regulations have resulted in stove being more efficient and emitting far fewer particles into the air.  The result is the same, people just don’t want to believe that something as natural and comforting as a wood stove can be harmful, and they will marshal as many arguments as they can to keep their beliefs alive.

Dog owners are another group who refuse to believe that even well trained dogs can be dangerous and that the fear of dogs is not an irrational fear.

What do these have to do with religion? The people who defend religion are also blind to the logic of criticisms of their beliefs They are also blind to any negative impacts that can result when they impose their beliefs on others, despite what the science has to say about their beliefs.

You believe that contraception is evil, or that discrimination based on religious belief is acceptable, or that images of your god are blasphemous? You believe that wood fires are natural and dogs are safe? Fine. You can believe what you will, logical or not. However,you do not have the right to force those beliefs on others, especially when it is easy to demonstrate the harm caused by those beliefs.

Of course, some forms of fire add to our communities

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One Response to Fire

  1. Lance says:

    Awww now I feel terrible. I have burned wood in my home for years without knowing how illogical it was. I was in complete ignorance about the harm I was causing to my neighbors and the imposition of my beliefs on others. To make matters much worse, we have two pet dogs – why did nobody ever tell me that they are natural born killers? I feel so bad for housing these beasts. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.

    Oh wait — now that I’ve thought about I can see that the problems surrounding deadly wood burning and killer dogs requires government intervention. We need more laws to ban burning wood or owning dogs – because they are way up there on the list of causes of death.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_causes_of_death_by_rate

    For your next rant may I suggest “The evils of gun ownership” and “Murderous pickup truck drivers”.

    Coffee sometime?

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