Can Burning Wood Really Be Environmentally Friendly?

When I was a young girl (I'll be showing my age now) we heated our home using a wood-burning stove.

It sounds archaic now: the notion of throwing logs into a metal hole so that the whole house can be warmed, but it's what we did for the entirety of my childhood.

This never occurred to me as something out of the ordinary until I went round to visit friends' houses. When we played in their back garden I noticed that they didn't have a chopping block, there were no wood reserves stored in the yard and no axes readily to hand. What were these people, savages?! Of course these people weren't living in a Victorian farmhouse, they were living in modern homes heated by gas. They didn't rely on the fierce heat of burning logs to cook their food or heat their water, they simply pressed a few buttons on a box and the house was heated. They switched on the hob and fire would appear. 'What luxury!', I remember thinking at the time. By the time I left home for University, I was already starting to form an idea of what living environmentally friendly meant and I was relatively certain that it didn't entail throwing endless kilos of logs into a fiery inferno on a daily basis. By the time I returned from University, fired up from my environmental lectures undertaken during my Geography degree, I was prepared to make my grievances with my parents' antiquated style of living. That was until I noticed that the wood stock had been replaced by a compost heap. The collections of axes had found their way onto the walls of the house and seemed to be taking a more decorative approach to life. Lastly, I wasn't greeted by a roaring fire on my arrival - a central heating system had been installed. My Father greeted me with a smug look on his face. He had left me in the dark intentionally to take the wind from my sails - a classic move. I could tell at the time that he could barely contain his eagerness to show off his new contraption. In the back of the house, a warm glow lit the utility room and large hemp sacks crowded periphery. My parents were still burning wood - just not like they used to. They'd replaced the faithful old wood-burning stove with a fuel efficient wood-pellet burner that heated the water and provided heating for the entire house, delivered through the recently installed system. But how was burning wood-pellets any better than big old logs? My Father rolled his eyes, clearly unimpressed with the level of education that three years of University lectures had provided me. He explained that the wood fuel he purchased from Liverpool Wood Pellets was sourced from farms that used Short Coppice Rotation to efficiently grow and harvest wood with zero-impact on the environment. Since installing their wood-pellet stove and starting up their compost heap, by parents have taken more interest in living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. They had always felt like I disapproved of their archaic lifestyle. After I graduated, they'd started changing their ways in a bid to appease my, now absent, grumblings.

What started out as the petulant complaints of a teenager turned into my very first Geography lesson. The change that they made over that summer - convinced me that teaching was the right path for me.

Fossilised Trees, Extreme Weather and Aussie Climate Change

Geography News From Around The World!

Fossilised Trees Point Towards Volcano Eruption Date

What do the fossilised remains of a tree (destroyed more than 1,000 years ago) and the records of Japanese monks have in common? No - this isn't a joke, it's a genuine question with an answer that pertains to the news that a volcanic eruption, which created a crater 4km-wide crater, has finally been dated. An international team of scientists combined their talents to successfully cross-reference the results, which were discovered from radiocarbon dating and historical accounts. In a rare move, scientists from China and North Korea sought for help with the project from the West. Concerned that Changbaishan (or Mount Paetku as it's otherwise known) would erupt soon, scientists are aiming to discover all they can about it's past. After linking patterns on the fossilised tree rings with 'bursts of cosmic radiation' which were flooding the world in the year 775, the researchers could successfully link the eruption (which was long suspected to have occurred around the year 1000 A.D.) with the notes recorded by Japanese monks who had heard the explosion and experienced the rain of ash that followed it from 470km away.

Extreme 'Weather Bomb' Surprises New Zealand

Imagine you're in the middle of a perfect summers day. You have a BBQ in full swing. The sun is shining, you've got shorts and t-shirt on and you're just about to put on your sunglasses when you see dark clouds on the horizon. Surely...that can't be...snow? This would have been the situation that you would have found yourself in if you'd been enjoying Summer time in the Southern parts of New Zealand this January. At this time of year, Kiwis are usually enjoying temperate weather but a recent 'weather bomb' has wrought havoc on the country as heavy rain, gales and snow storms have ravaged the North and South Island. Landslides have blocked roads and residents of some towns have been forced to burn their fences, in a bid to fend off the unseasonably cold weather. New Zealanders hoping for this weather to pass quickly will be disappointed, as the Met Service has confirmed that stable weather is not expected to return until February and March.

Australians Feel Like Climate Change Is Already Happening

Although America might well have recently sworn in a leader that has a less than favourable view on the existence of climate change - the good people of Australia, or at least a large proportion of a survey of 2000, believe they are already experiencing it's impacts. 90% of those who took the survey (undertaken by the Community Power Agency), living in regional and rural areas, felt that climate change was already making it's presence known. 46% of these also thought that coal-fired power stations should be replaced with a cleaner form of energy production. The sentiment was no different within the cities of Australia, as over three quarters of the respondents to the survey, who lived within the cities, believed that ignoring climate change would make their current situation much worse. Let's just hope Australia's conscientious population decides to emigrate to the States sometime soon!

Engaging With Environmental Issues At Home

Before I went to University to begin my studies in Geography, I owned a small gardening business.

Gardening is a peculiar past time.

For some it is a necessary chore; the weeding of a drive, the mowing of a lawn, these monotonous activities need to be done in order to keep one's garden looking presentable, therefore conforming to the accepted norm. For others (me included!), it's a joy that gives them endless hours of pottering around and fresh air. Each project that we take on is one that will stand the test of time, each seed we plant, an investment in the future. Although the work started out as relatively simple, small jobs, weeding gardens and planting flower beds, soon I was asked to bring to life my clients' dream gardens to life and do it all in an environmentally friendly way. You might assume that this would be a relatively easy job to perform, you'd be surprised at how demanding clients can be and how hard it can be to keep your carbon footprint small - even when you're working on the smallest of back gardens. Responding to these requests required ingenuity and a great deal of research. Although large scale garden transformations might have been all the rage back in the 90s, the modern homeowner does not look as kindly on concrete pathways, dodgy water features and wooden decking as it once did. As a result, the onus was on me to devise and source environmentally solutions to my clients' demands.

Thankfully, I was given a relatively free rein, in regards to how I got my work done. I could therefore take some interesting routes to solving my problem.

Say, for example, that my client wanted 'natural looking' garden furniture - an alternative to the plastic and glass monstrosities that you so often see being sold at B&Q and Homebase. My solution to this? Upcycle timber packing cases from an online seller and re-shape the boxes into affordable, beautiful outside furniture. Although the gaudy fountains and ugly faux-concrete ornaments firmly belonged in the past, clients still wanted some kind of water feature in their back gardens. Flat-out refusing anything approximating one of those God awful pre-moulded plastic ponds, I instead opted for a natural, eco-friendly option. Although more labour intensive, this method allowed me to be more creative with my designs as well as further protect the environment.

Of course the go-to option that I recommended each and every one of my clients was a compost heap.

Most people might not like the idea of a stinking pile of garbage in their back garden, but using more of those handy timber packing cases I found ways of constructing and hiding these compulsory garden staples and allowing my clients' to successfully reduce their waste. I was fortunate enough to be paid to do something I enjoy for the 6 years that I ran my business, this was my first foray into independent enterprise.

Through my gardening, I gained the passion and motivation to pursue my career as a teacher.

Earthquakes Hits Italy, E-Waste Skyrocketing and Geog Exams Worst Ever

 Geography News this week...

Series Of Earthquakes Stun Italy

Up until August last year, most people would have considered Italy a safe, viable destination to travel to.

Although known for it's corruption and questionable police force, it has remained an enduring tourist attraction, thanks to it's well preserved national heritage sites and celebrated culture. With temperate summers and mild winters, it has long been a destination for holiday makers - but this might soon change. On August 24th 2016, the country was rocked by a series of Earthquakes, the most aggressive of which registered at 6.2 on the richter scale. Nearly 300 people lost their lives and over 400 people were injured across the country. It was the first of a series to hit the country after a 4-year hiatus from tectonic activity. The most recent of these, registering at 5.7, has led to at least 14 fatalities at an Italian mountain hotel in Abruzzo. After 5 incidents in the space of a year, it would appear that Italy is entering a new era of increased natural disasters.

Asia's E-Waste Mountains Rise To Record High

China is currently leading the way with record amounts of e-waste being left as a result of an ever increasing market for new consumer electronics.

A whopping 16 million tonnes of electronics waste was dumped in the space of a single year - a number that has risen by 63% within 5 years. E-waste includes any kind of electronic item that contains toxic or valuable metals that can not simply be put into a landfill. Items such as televisions, phone and toys often contain pollutants that have been linked to adverse effects on human health, including inflammation and oxidative stress. These symptoms are often seen as precursors to serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and even cancer. The demand for consumer electronics is unlikely to desist in China or the rest of Asia, where similar cases of e-waste have been increasing for the past few years. The question remains, what will the long-term consequences be for these countries' populations and is there a way of turning the tide?

 Popularity Of Geography Under Threat In Scotland

After a series of particularly poorly received exams have left both students and teachers scratching their heads, the popularity of the Geography A-Level in Scotland may well be on the decline.

The Royal Scottish Geographical Society, back in November, made a submission to Members of Scottish Parliament, warning that if the Scottish Qualifications Authority did not amend their exams properly for the next year the subject could see a significant decrease in popularity. Of all the teachers, who took part in a survey on the much criticised exam paper, 10% considered the paper as 'fair, OK, or better' whereas over 50% of the teachers thought it was 'poor, shocking, terrible, worst ever and nothing like the specimen or previous paper.' SQA have responded insisting that the paper was of an 'appropriate standard'. Fortunately for us, the subject still remains as popular as ever in England and Wales.

Memories of South Korea: Before We Had Windows

There was a time when I lived in a house without windows...

I'm slightly older than my fellow writers here at the Geography Collective, as such I'm given a little leeway in regards to my indulgences in nostalgia.

My journey from rural Pyeongchang, South Korea to the urban sprawl of Manchester here in the UK is one that never ceases to amaze the new people I meet. My Mother met and married my step-father, a British man visiting the country for business back in 1979. My biological Father, an inveterate drinker and gambler, had long since abandoned my Mother and I, leaving us to fend for ourselves in what was a rather harsh financial climate. Thankfully, the local community were kind to us, giving us food when we needed it and providing me with clothes when I needed them. The mists of the past often cloud the smallest of details, which only deign to reveal themselves after the mind is brought to attention by a stimulus of the present day. Such an instance presented itself just the other day. It all started with something relatively mundane. Recently, my wife and I decided that we needed to replace our windows. For nearly a decade, we'd been living with single glazing, leading to the cold of the England's North continually sucking all the heat from our little terraced home. The team at Allerton Windows promised me that they could replace all our shoddy single panes with strong double glazing within a day. I stayed at home on the day that they were due to visit, whilst my wife escaped to a friend's house. The men arrived and the old windows were duly removed, leaving the house open to the elements. I had work to complete at home, so I sat in my study wrapped up in a jacket, leaning over my students' exercise books. As my breath appeared before my eyes, with the bright white light of an overcast day poring through the open window, my mind was transported back to Pyeongchang in the 1970s. The 70s were a turbulent time for South Korea - I grew up in a time book-ended by student protests, military coups and assassinations. For a young boy, living in the rural scrub of the countryside, these political issues were the barely audible whispers of conflict. Such noises were drowned out by our wireless radio. This little box forever played our country's approximation of Folk music - which was growing increasingly popular amongst women my Mother's age, due to the impact that American culture had on the country's tastes following the war in the fifties. In those days, our traditional Korean home was fast becoming obsolete. During the balmy summers, the open windows were a relief, allowing a breeze to flow through our small two-room home, but in the dead of winter they were a curse. If my Mother closed the shutters I'd be left in darkness with no light to study by, so she left them open. We wrapped up warm and the fog and mist, that collected off the nearby paddy fields, drifted lazily through our small home, as I struggled over algebra problems and my Mother sung along to covers of Simon & Garfunkel.

The men finished their work on time and my wife returned to a house that was finally warm from top to bottom. She found me asleep that afternoon, in my dimly lit office with my head resting on my students' work, 'The Sound of Silence' playing on the radio.

Tropical Forests In Danger, Sinkholes In China and A New Deadly Frog

Breaking Geography News...

Can Climate Policies Alone Save The Rainforests?

No. That's what the University of Leeds is saying anyway, in a recent study funded by the institution.

In fact, summaries from their results have suggested that efforts to conserve forests, by expounding their carbon storage value, might do more to endanger the remaining forests than help them. Although there are many international programmes in place with the aim of protecting the carbon stocks of the world's forests, many of these don't take into consideration the protection of the forest's biodiversity. The study found that biodiversity was not causally linked to carbon storage, but it could still be an important factor looking into the future. Writer on the study, Dr. Sullivan, took Borneo for an example, expounding the importance of protecting forests which have both high carbon stocks and tree diversity.

Sinkhole In China Eats 25 Tonnes Of Fish In One Night

Chinese officials are currently puzzling over a giant sinkhole, over 5 metres wide, which opened up underneath a local farmer's fish farm, destroying his livelihood.

Between the hours of 4 and 5 in the morning, the sink hole opened and began draining the pond above of all it's water - including some 25 tonnes of fish within. The current theory is that work being undertaken at a nearby quarry is the cause of the hole, however there has yet to be a complete investigation. The farm constituted a part of collective, meaning that the loss of fish could well impact the entire local community. Sinkholes can occur for a number of reasons, both man-made and environmental. They usually occur when rock beneath the surface is made of limestone, salt beds or other such rocks that can be dissolved by water running through them. It remains to be seen whether this particular example was caused naturally or by the local quarry work.

Peru Holds More Poisonous Secrets

There are apparently many more secrets to be discovered within the Earth's forests.

Buried deep within the Peruvian Amazon, herpetologist Shirley Jennifer Serrano Rojas has discovered a new species of poison dart frog - however she may be a little short on time studying it. In the summer of 2013, Serrano Rojas, along with other members of the Crees Foundation (a Peruvian Foundation created with the aim of sustaining the Amazon and the diverse species it contains) was recording the sounds of a nearby stream when she heard a call she had not heard before. After finally netting the elusive frog, named Ameerega shihuemoy, the scientists discovered that not only was this a new species but that it also displayed wholly unique behaviours in regards to their reproduction cycle. Unfortunately, considering the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, they will be racing against the clock to research this species and discover more, which disappear daily.