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CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Scandal of ‘killer’ wood burning stoves and the question – is the political class’s obsession with global warming rotting their brains?

May 23, 2018

By Paul Homewood


From the Mail (and, no, Mr Booker has not changed his name!):



The Government earned plaudits from the green lobby yesterday for its new plan to crack down on the craze for wood-burning stoves.

As the Mail reported on its front page, the stoves chuck out lethal pollution, particularly from wet wood, and contribute to thousands of early deaths from lung and heart disease.

But hang on! One reason Britain burns more wood than it has done for decades — a 2016 survey found 7.5 per cent of households in London burn wood — is that only recently, the Government and the greens told us burning wood to heat our homes was the best thing we could do for the environment.

Wood is ‘sustainable’, we were told. It gives off less CO2 than any other heating. It will help us save the planet and meet CO2 reduction targets under the Climate Change Act.

As a result of these persuasive arguments, about 1.5 million British homes have wood-burning stoves and 200,000 more are sold every year.

Given these horrific facts, why have governments in recent years made wood-burning such a core part of energy policy? For there is no doubt ministers have been desperate to encourage it. There is just one issue. Health problems apart, the whole thing is an economic disaster (file photo)

Now we learn that wood-burning is the single biggest source of tiny soot particles called PM2.5s — they are also emitted by burning coal and diesel — which go into our lungs and are said to be responsible for an estimated 37,800 premature deaths a year.

Given these horrific facts, why have governments in recent years made wood-burning such a core part of energy policy? For there is no doubt ministers have been desperate to encourage it.

There is just one issue. Health problems apart, the whole thing is an economic disaster.

Only last week we had a withering report from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee about the failings of something called the ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’, a scheme launched in 2011 by Chris Huhne when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

The idea was to offer lavish subsidies to businesses and homeowners to cut their ‘carbon emissions’, and save on energy bills, by centrally heating their premises by burning wood pellets. Participants could only qualify if they installed specific expensive renewable heating systems — as opposed to wood-burners bought by homeowners simply trying to be eco-friendly.

The MPs found that, although the scheme will cost taxpayers a staggering £23 billion in subsidies in the next 20 years, the high upfront costs meant take-up has been shamefully low.

Just 35,000 households have invested in it since its launch, while 6.2 million have installed very much cheaper gas heating over the same period.

The committee declared that the Government utterly failed to take account of the serious health risks posed by wood burning, while, thanks to the subsidies on offer, too many unscrupulous people had ‘gamed’ the system just to make money.

But last week’s report was far from the first time the Renewable Heat Incentive has given rise to a major scandal.

A version of the scheme — with even more lavish subsidies — ran so totally out of control in Northern Ireland in 2016 that it led to the downfall of the government there, sparking a political crisis that, 17 months later, is not resolved.

The crisis arose from the discovery that its subsidy bill had already hit £500 million and by 2020 was due to top £1 billion.

So generous was the Northern Irish scheme to businesses, offering £160 for every £100 they spent on wood chips, that firms used it to heat disused warehouses and long-empty offices, knowing the more they spent on wood chips the greater their profit would be.

Some users of the scheme kept heating systems running flat out night and day because they made such a profit from the subsidy scheme.

But even this disgracefully wasteful affair is dwarfed by what has become one of the most controversial green energy schemes of all: the conversion of boilers at the giant Drax power station in Yorkshire from coal to wood pellets, costing us all £800 million a year in subsidies.

The bitter truth is that these fiascos caused by our obsession with wood-burning are just a part of a larger disaster that taints almost every green scheme governments have foisted on Britain in the quest to reduce carbon emissions (file photo)

Millions of tonnes of wood pellets are now needed by Drax every year, and since it is impossible to supply that quantity domestically, vast amounts of pellets are shipped 3,500 miles to Yorkshire from the U.S., where forests are destroyed to supply them.

As with the Government’s endorsement of wood-burning stoves and its Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, the idea behind Drax’s conversion to wood pellets is that burning trees or ‘biomass’ is ‘carbon neutral’ because eventually new, CO2-absorbing trees will grow to replace the ones that have been felled.

Yet a series of studies has confirmed what should have been obvious. It takes decades to grow a mature CO2-absorbing tree to replace a CO2-producing tree that can be cut down in seconds. Far from cutting Drax’s CO2 emissions, the largest power station in Britain gives off even more CO2 than when it just burnt coal.

Even the most ardent green activist groups have protested that chopping down millions of acres of forest in America to fuel a system that ends up chucking out more CO2 is an absurd ecological disaster.

This was even endorsed in a report last year by Duncan Brack, who had been a special adviser to Chris Huhne when this scheme was first being discussed.

What makes it even more disturbing is what happened to Mr Huhne after he was forced in 2012 to resign for perverting the course of justice by lying over a speeding offence.

Scarcely was the former environment minister out of prison in 2013, having served only two months of an eight-month sentence, than he was given a new job by an old school friend as European Director of Zilkha Biomass, a U.S. firm that supplies, yes, you’ve guessed it, American-made wood pellets all over the world — though he denies any conflict of interest.

The bitter truth is that these fiascos caused by our obsession with wood-burning are just a part of a larger disaster that taints almost every green scheme governments have foisted on Britain in the quest to reduce carbon emissions.

Remember why the Blair government in 2001 encouraged millions of motorists to switch to driving diesel cars through offering tax subsidies. It was because Blair’s chief scientific adviser Sir David King had decided that diesel gives off much less CO2 than petrol.

Eventually, it turned out that the pollution (in the form of those PM2.5 particles and toxic nitrogen oxides) emitted by diesels posed such a serious health risk it could be causing thousands of premature deaths in Britain every year.

And so, with a screeching U-turn, all the tax incentives encouraging us to buy diesel cars were reversed and diesel drivers were penalised. In this week’s latest proposed measures, the Government plans to clamp down not just on wood-burning stoves, but also even further on diesel vehicles.

The real question is why do our gullible politicians constantly deceive themselves and the rest of us with their endless, ever-more costly ‘green’ schemes which turn out to be nothing of the kind and actually increase pollution?

It is all very well MPs coming out with yet another report on yet another green energy fiasco. But why is it always only after the damage has been done? Why can’t they properly evaluate these green initiatives before they happen?

The fact is that not one of these schemes comes into being without having been nodded through Parliament.

In that sense our MPs are as much a party to these disasters as the ministers who propose them.

It’s as if the political class’s obsession with global warming rots their brains — for which the rest of us have to pay a very heavy price.

  1. Joe Public permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:13 am

    More info the 2017 “AIR QUALITY EXPERT GROUP
    The Potential Air Quality Impacts from Biomass Combustion”

    Click to access 1708081027_170807_AQEG_Biomass_report.pdf

  2. May 23, 2018 10:17 am

    “part of a larger disaster that taints almost every green scheme governments have foisted on Britain”. I would say it taints every green scheme – I cannot think of a single green scheme that has not been a disaster. If it has “green” in the title, then hold onto your wallet because you know a government-sponsored disastrous scam is on the way.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      May 23, 2018 10:44 am

      Not just “foisted on Britain”, the whole bloody world.
      Every one of them has “unintended consequences”, but not unforeseen by anyone with an iota of training, education and common sense.

    • CheshireRed permalink
      May 23, 2018 12:05 pm

      This is almost certainly exactly correct. If there really is a brilliant Green scheme then I’m stumped if I can think of it and if it existed we can be sure the BBC and Guardian would be shouting from the rooftops about it, but…..tumbleweed.
      On the other side of the balance sheet has been an almost endless list of financial, public take-up, failed objective and unintended consequence disasters.
      I’m sure Mr Booker could do splendid hit piece pointing out all these failures.

  3. HotScot permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:19 am

    Too many career politicians looking for something to justify their existence is the real problem.

    Too many ‘charities’ propped up by government money, without which they wouldn’t survive, acting as lobby groups to squeeze through worthless policies that should never see the light of day.

    To much attention given to minority groups that represent the minority, not the majority.

    I’m sure there are more issues with the UK’s spineless government.

  4. charles wardrop permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:20 am

    Those in charge have disregarded common sense-if they have any-over Greenery.
    They need to employ that, recalling Ronnie Regan’s advice” Dont just stand there, do nothing,” and he was the most successful US President for years.
    Accepting Sir David King’s advice was yet another Blair mistake/disaster, or the UK could have shown the way to avoid such waste. King is more forceful than justified by sense and facts, not speculations.
    Pres. Trump has much more sense, in this context at least.

    • charles wardrop permalink
      May 23, 2018 12:09 pm

      Sorry for my mistake, the Regan quotation is: “Don’t just do something, stand there”

      • May 23, 2018 1:28 pm

        You are referring to Ronald Reagan?

      • charles wardrop permalink
        May 23, 2018 1:38 pm

        Ronald Regan, and others, as shown in Google,Wikipedia.

      • johnrmcd permalink
        May 24, 2018 7:31 am

        The President was Reagan; I seem to remember Regan was a Cabinet Secretary.

      • charles wardrop permalink
        May 24, 2018 9:18 am

        Sorry for my second mistake in one post, the name is Reagan!

  5. Jack Broughton permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:29 am

    If I were the cynical kind, which thank the lord I’m not sir, I might think that the green policies are a clever way of increasing the tax burden on the poorest sectors of society: a bit like the Poll Tax. But, of course I’m not.

    PM particulate measurements are a relatively new science: there is considerable doubt about the health issues from the world-wide research. However, it is a massive opportunity to the Fear Campaign “Political Scientist” community. Mr. Booker deals so well with this in his books, but the easily-fooled group-thinkers would not read such publications, especially not by a “denier”.

  6. Mack permalink
    May 23, 2018 10:55 am

    Excellent article. My only quibble is with the comment that pollution from diesels ‘ could be causing thousands of premature deaths in Britain’ every year. I’m sure Mr Booker is well aware that the sources of such claims are as bonkers as the sources claiming that we are in an unprecedented era of warming and we are all going to fry unless we repent our Co2 sins. Mind you, it seems fair to bash the greenies with their own ‘particulate’ hobgoblin that seems to get them more and more animated these days. Particularly now that the permanent droughts, extreme weather events, runaway warming, rising sea levels, vanishing poles and disappearing polar bears just don’t seem to be happening as foretold in the Doomsday Book of Settled Science. Talking of real air pollution, how are we all doing in bringing cheap and reliable electricity to the world’s poorest, millions of whom actually do have their lives foreshortened by their reliance on dung fires etc to heat their homes in the absence of clean, modern energy sources?

    • HotScot permalink
      May 23, 2018 12:09 pm


      “Talking of real air pollution, how are we all doing in bringing cheap and reliable electricity to the world’s poorest, millions of whom actually do have their lives foreshortened…….”

      200,000,000 premature deaths by 2050 according to a report published by the GWPF.

      That’s roughly the population of the UK, France and Germany combined, dead, within 30 years or so.

      It really is the most disgusting example of wealth retention by socialism which detests free market economies and deem that now the west is wealthy, developing countries can go hang themselves.

      Their motto?: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        May 23, 2018 12:34 pm

        I think we need to be a bit careful when we start bandying figures around. The words ‘hoist’ and ‘petard’ spring to mind if we aren’t careful.

        We are happy to talk about 200 million premature deaths from air pollution in rural Africa but challenge the claim of 40,000 deaths from air pollution in the UK (or wherever our “data of choice” come from).

        We really cannot have it both ways!

        On the subject of “green” scare stories, these will proliferate and become ever more outlandish for just as long as we (which in effect means our decision makers) are prepared to give the eco-lobby a free pass.

        One day some idiot who hasn’t got the wit to stay in line will come up with a suit of imperial clothes that is so patently transparent even to the most gullible politician that it will be enough to start a series of “you’re right, and what about ………?” responses which will be enough to bring the whole edifice tumbllng down.

        So far there has at least been a veneer of plausibility to most green scams though you would have thought that ignoring the CO2 from burning trees for electricity on the grounds that this was a carbon-neutral process was pushing it just a bit! Evidently not.

      • HotScot permalink
        May 23, 2018 6:40 pm


        the ‘data of choice’ in this case is from a respected epidemiologist, Mikko Paunio

        The WHO itself states 4M people a year die from burning bio mass

        So were kind of in the ball park and on fairly safe turf quoting these numbers.

        But take the WHO’s numbers, that’s only the combined populations of the UK and France.

        Would there be a national and international outcry if it were announced “we’ll just kill everyone in the UK and France over the next 3 years”. I suspect so. Is there one for the developing world?

        Nope, because it would reveal the west’s hypocrisy over who can benefit from cheap energy, and who can’t.

  7. May 23, 2018 12:05 pm

    Placed on Facebook.

    Also: The prognosis of early death due to pollutants (Pm5) is grossly flawed in that it takes no account of DNA.

    My anecdotal experience: I married into a family that had a lung enzyme deficiency. Three of which suffered early death due to lung problems. Two of my children now in their mid life have potential lung problems. I, myself, spent some 30 years in the harsh environment of the shot blasting industry and have breathed many a noxious pollution. I have also smoked through my life, yet have very healthy lungs at 82 years. Why, one wonders?

    Beware statistics and extrapolation. Assumptions are not good science and are dangerous if taken as gospel.

  8. May 23, 2018 12:06 pm

    A word of caution! I consider the fear of PM2.5 particulate pollution and man-made global warming to be overblown. But not so for wood stoves, they have a useful purpose. Besides many wood stoves are equipped with catalytic converters today. Britain in the past has experienced extreme winters, beyond the pale of anything experienced today. Irrespective of all other types of heat sources, wood and coal, represent the last line of personal defense in surviving an extremely brutal winter, the kind where you burn all the wood furniture in your house to keep warm just to survive.

    • charles wardrop permalink
      May 23, 2018 12:15 pm

      The “extremely brutal winter” sounds like Leuchars Junction, Fife, as jokingly described by Nansen as the coldest place he knew!

  9. Bitter@twisted permalink
    May 23, 2018 12:26 pm

    Huhne was and still is a crook.
    Why would anyone expect any venture with Huhne would be anything but crooked?

    • charles wardrop permalink
      May 23, 2018 1:03 pm

      If deception and mendacity mark crookedness, the notorious Huehne (German:chickens) is not the only crooked politico, but he was convicted as crooked, as should be, e.g., Scotland’s FM and many more, like the MP expenses scandlers or, at least, as “srangers to the truth”.

  10. May 23, 2018 1:38 pm

    Pardon me, but I have been aware since 1980 that the burning of wood puts more carcinogens into the atmosphere than the burning of the so-called fossil fuels. I do not consider the wood fire to enjoy as an evening treat or outdoor cooking in the same category as using it as the primary heating source.

    Secondly, now that the Southeastern riverine forests of the United States have been obliterated, we have noticed? Botanists at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and nearby Duke University and many elsewhere signed a letter of complaint to former Obama EPA head Gina McCarthy in February, 2015. These folks who sometimes pass as ecologists, did not notice in time to stop such drastic forest removal?

    Here is a link to their letter. Apparently Gina was too busy nuking coal in WV to take heed.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      May 23, 2018 8:09 pm

      In Europe wood based carbon dioxide and emissions do not count as they are bio-CO2: very clever eh? Unbelievable that “scientists” could use such sophistry and stupidity to justify burning wood, and that those opposing the idiocy were ignored.

  11. May 23, 2018 2:34 pm

    Is grandstanding, i.e. virtue signalling, the basis of all successful election campigns?

    That would explain so many, many political actions. A poster child for X gets elected. Nobody else. Period. Doesn’t matter what X is. X can change each election cycle. Moral crises underpin every successful election?

    Interesting possibility. Looks like the U.S. pattern since at least 2001.

  12. May 23, 2018 3:49 pm

    Are they going to close that gint wood burning stove in Yorkshire, called drax

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      May 23, 2018 8:11 pm

      If Drax were converted back to coal, I would agree. However, it is better to burn wood at Drax than to let the idiots who decide our future energy policy close it. At least it can still be converted back when sense eventually prevails.

  13. Bill permalink
    May 23, 2018 5:15 pm

    Well we burn wood simply because it is much cheaper, as in free, than any of the alternatives. Burning wet wood is just plain stupidity (the actual point the defra mentioned in their diktat) so we don’t do that all wood that goes onto the fire is dry.
    As a child of the sixties I was brought up in the ‘coal smoke’ infested atmosphere of the industrial town where I lived also ‘polluted’ with cars, trucks industrial diesels, furnaces, smelters and who knows what else so really I should be dead by now from whatever means is currently in vogue. To see the paranoia a few wood burners causes in the eco loons and government (is there a difference?) is really quite comical.

    • richard verney permalink
      May 24, 2018 10:44 am

      all wood that goes onto the fire is dry.

      There is dry and dry.

      I have a wood burner in Spain. All the wood I use is locally sourced (from the garden, the woods at the back, I have no fence, and nearby woods), and is chopped and left to dry in the Spanish heat. However, I doubt that it is particularly dry since being about 1/2 mile from the sea, the humidity tends to be quite high all year round but particularly in the summer.

      Without some specialised forced air drying system, how does one dry wood in the open air in high humidity conditions? I am sceptical that wood being used by most people is truly dry.

      Incidentally, my wood burner has a glass door and twin fans blowing out hot air. But it takes about 15 minutes before the stove is up to temperature and for the fans to cut in. During this time, the smoke from the chimney is clearly visible. Once the stove is up to temperature, there is far less smoke visible. If one goes in the garden one can smell the wood burner. It is obvious that it produces much pollution.

  14. Gamecock permalink
    May 23, 2018 5:31 pm

    ‘As the Mail reported on its front page, the stoves chuck out lethal pollution, particularly from wet wood, and contribute to thousands of early deaths from lung and heart disease.’

    Liars. Let’s see some death certificates.

    Until they can name them, they are lying.

    As Milloy has documented at, the PM2.5 schtick is completely fake.

    • dave permalink
      May 23, 2018 8:12 pm

      “…wet wood…”

      Farcical! What eejit uses wet wood for anything?

      Any time I buy wood I insist on its having been naturally seasoned (i.e. not dried in a kiln*). For carpentry (Russian Redwood is the best) I require five years, and for open fires (old apple trees are the best) one year. If I am doubtful, I heft it; and estimate the water content.
      I do not care to pay for that water.


      *My Materials Science friends tell me that, since ‘seasoning’ is just ‘drying’, it does not matter how it is seasoned – but I remain to be convinced.

      • richard verney permalink
        May 24, 2018 10:54 am

        I am sceptical that bulk wood that is claimed to be dry, is in fact dry.

        The type of wood being burnt is a very far cry from buying sawn timber, and even sawn timber has rarely been properly dried as one can readily see when one goes to Wicks, B&Q etc and one sees how much of it is warped.

        It is very expensive to dry timber. To save costs, most firewood is piled up high in the open and the UK has high humidity rendering it very difficult to properly dry the wood.

  15. Rob permalink
    May 23, 2018 8:04 pm

    All MP are twats .let’s see what tax or fine they can think of next . The air is better now than it was 100 years ago . May be we would not burn wood if gas and electricity did not cost so much . And we had good cheap public transport.

  16. Athelstan permalink
    May 23, 2018 11:31 pm

    “though he denies any conflict of interest.”

    When he isn’t totally absorded in ringing his accountants, recounting his ill-gotten gains, huhne is also a comedian in his spare time.

  17. swan101 permalink
    May 24, 2018 11:48 am

    Reblogged this on UPPER SONACHAN WIND FARM.

  18. It's happening anyway permalink
    May 24, 2018 11:50 am

    And, I imagine that this has nothing to do with the current need to prop up the failing Scottish Oil and Gas sector or give more weight for the need to build four more Nuclear power stations.

  19. Charles Wardrop, permalink
    May 24, 2018 6:50 pm

    Could at least some of the politicos’ brains have been rotted by kickbacks?

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