• Tech Tech

Climate scientist responds to commenter on the misconception that burning wood pollutes more than burning fossil fuels: 'It's very clear'

"You cannot compare those two energy sources."

"You cannot compare those two energy sources."

Photo Credit: Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

When it comes to lighting a fire in Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a renowned climate scientist, the claim by a dismissive social media commenter that burning gas is cleaner than burning wood is the perfect kindling. 

Dr. Hayhoe responded to the claim in a video for The Cool Down. 

"B.S.," the dismissive challenger wrote to her in response to a post about how the richest 1% of people produce more than twice the carbon pollution of the poorest 50%. "Poor countries burn wood, the most polluting fuel. Wealthier countries burn gas, which is much cleaner." 

"Well, first of all, this is confusing air pollution with carbon pollution.," Dr. Hayhoe opens her defense, acknowledging that gas stoves are considered "cleaner" to operate inside without ventilation than wood-burning stoves (though they are still not truly safe). 

"Air pollution is what you breathe in that chokes your lungs. It's true that burning wood indoors is responsible for several million premature deaths every year, but burning fossil fuels outdoors is responsible for twice as many, if not three times as many, premature deaths every year."

She continues to explain that burning wood releases carbon that the trees took out of the atmosphere a very short time ago, while burning dirty energy sources like coal, gas, and oil — what we refer to as fossil fuels — produces the carbon that was trapped below the Earth's crust millions of years ago. 

"You cannot compare those two energy sources," Dr. Hayhoe states. "When you look at who's responsible for climate change, it's very clear it is not poor countries. It is the rich ones, including ours." 

Aside from the deaths caused by air pollution created by burning dirty energy sources, it is also one of the leading causes of rising global temperatures. Further, as temperatures continue to rise, so does the frequency of extreme weather events, which lead to even more deaths. 

Lastly, to Dr. Hayhoe's final point, rich countries, including the United States, generate 10 times the climate impact of poorer ones, according to the UN Environment Programme. Despite this fact, poorer countries often take the brunt of the effects of a warming planet despite contributing to them far less — and often not having the economic means to advance to the modern options the U.S. does, such as developing more solar and wind power. 

In this case, the social media critic would do far better to make changes in their own life rather than point fingers at those who may be unable to do so. 

Dr. Hayhoe says some of the most impactful actions individuals can take are to start a conversation about why the changing climate matters and what people can do, join a climate action group, or change where they keep their money

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider