Random News Roundup I: From Woodstoves to Airbnbs


Hope you and your friends are staying warm!

Yesterday was way below zero here with a wind chill,  so I was cleaning my office and thought I’d share some totally random pieces I thought were interesting.  Most timely and relevant:

1. Wood Stoves Are Bad For You

FOR MANY AIR QUALITY regulators and advocates, tweaking wood stove emissions is missing the point. Though reducing emissions in the short term can be beneficial, a longer-term solution would phase out wood stoves altogether, said Laura Kate Bender, the national assistant vice president for healthy air at the American Lung Association.

“Right now, what the science shows us is that there’s actually no safe level of particle pollution exposure,” Bender said. “There’s no amount that’s healthy to breathe.”

It’s interesting.. in some cases it’s a trade-off so people have multiple heating sources; diversity is good for economic and survival resilience.  And certainly there have to be restrictions in populated areas.  But people do other unhealthy things.. most notably, perhaps, food and beverage choices.  Say sugar or alcohol or marijuana?

But for most of them, the more immediate issue is getting rid of uncertified wood stoves and discouraging people from burning for recreation — an uphill battle for many who are unaware of the health impacts of woodsmoke.

“People are just sort of like, well, yeah, it stinks,” said Traviss, the Keene air pollution researcher. “But, it’s wood. How bad can it be?”

Maybe they aren’t unaware, maybe they are making different choices than some would prefer.

There’s also an interesting question of EPA’s analysis of wood stoves.   In this article (titled “10 blue states are planning to sue the EPA”- and includes Alaska as a blue state), it goes into some detail, but if the author seems confused about what people use wood stoves for (and the partisan feelings of Alaska) there are probably better stories out there.

 According to public health experts in the UK, a wood-burning stove is 450 times more polluting than a gas one. An electric stove is the least polluting option and often the most efficient, too.

2. Can ecosystems be intact if they are under solar panels?

Can massive solar power expansion regenerate the US’s iconic prairies?
Renewable energy development is transforming the US countryside. It could be a chance to restore the iconic prairies if rural opposition can be overcome

This is from New Scientist, last September.

Rapid development of renewable energy facilities, such as solar farms and wind turbines, is necessary to cut greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. But the industry’s demand for rural land – what Shannon Eddy, director of the Large-scale Solar Association, calls “the biggest shift in land-use patterns in modern history” – has generated intense opposition among local communities across the US. Amid this, researchers and some developers, including Ørsted, are looking for ways to make facilities that bring benefits not only to rural populations but landscapes too.

The one that has perhaps gained most traction is the idea that solar development can restore lost habitat if native flora is planted beneath panels, supporting birds and insects and improving the soil on potentially millions of hectares. This, the argument goes, could finally herald the return of the iconic prairie.

They’re kidding, right?


Prairie rewilding

Then there are decisions about the maintenance needed to ensure seeds grow and outcompete invasive plants. Mowing is better than herbicides for pollinators. Some sites use goats or sheep to control vegetation through grazing. Prescribed burning would be ideal, says Walston: native prairie plants have deep roots adapted to withstand fire. Indeed, fire suppression by European settlers is a major reason for the loss of prairie to encroaching woody plants. However, burning hasn’t yet been tried at a solar facility to his knowledge. Beneath solar panels or not, “prairie restoration is not going to be easy”, says Harms.

Restoring habitat isn’t all expense, though. Once established, a solar prairie might actually require less maintenance than close-cut turfgrass and it may be less prone to erosion than gravel, says Walston. Prairie locks up carbon in the soil, so restoration projects could be marketed as carbon credits. Research has also found that having vegetation beneath panels improves their efficiency on hot days by cooling them. The scale of these benefits is potentially vast. In California alone, Hernandez envisions solar developments that incorporate prairie restoration happening on the hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland set to be taken out of production to prevent overuse of groundwater.

The rest of  the article is also interesting albeit paywalled.

3. Those Darn Humans Department: Destroying Ecosystems Since 13K BCE

Extreme fires caused by ancient humans wiped out Californian megafauna

A series of catastrophic fires killed off many large mammals in southern California by 13,000 years ago, and they were largely due to the arrival of humans

A series of catastrophic fires was the immediate cause of the extinction of many large mammals in southern California 13,000 years ago, according to a study of fossils from the La Brea tar pits. The findings suggest these extreme fires were probably a result of humans abruptly changing the ecosystem by killing off herbivores – meaning there was more vegetation to burn – and deliberately starting fires.

“It’s a synergy of the drying climate and the humans, and the fact that they are killing herbivores and increasing fuel loads, and all of those things go together to make a feedback loop that takes the ecosystem to a chaotic state,” says Robin O’Keefe at Marshall University in West Virginia. “The fire event is really catastrophic.”

4.  Airbnb and Florence.  From the Wall Street Journal. It’s not just resort communities in the US…

The spread of short-term rentals has pushed up rents and priced out residents. Shops that once served locals have become rarities. Lockboxes for keys sit next to the doorbells at many buildings’ entrances. On some streets in central Florence, most of the buildings have at least one lockbox, which allows visitors to access their short-term apartment without having to meet the owner. Some buildings have four or five.The telltale lockboxes have also proliferated along the canals of Venice, the small alleys of the Cinque Terre and the chaotic streets of Rome.

Florence’s historic center—a Unesco World Heritage site—has more beds listed on Airbnb than it has residents, according to the study. “Even if you have a lot of money, you can’t find a place to rent in Florence because all the apartments are on Airbnb,” said Linda Sanesi, who lives outside the city’s central area and runs a hair salon with her husband on a small street next to Florence’s cathedral.

Up until the 1990s, stores serving locals populated the downtown area. Few have survived. About 60% of Sanesi’s clients are tourists looking for a haircut.


Florentine property owners and professional managers of short-term rentals are promising to fight the city’s restrictions in court.

Italy’s government has debated what to do about short-term rentals, but has yet to make any significant intervention. Its draft budget for 2024 would raise the tax rate on rental profits to 26% from 21%, starting with the second apartment an owner rents out. The first rental would still be taxed at 21%. Critics say it will make little difference.

Other European tourist destinations have restricted short-term rentals. Amsterdam introduced its first regulations in 2014, under which apartments generally can’t be rented out on platforms such as Airbnb for more than 30 days a year. Owners can rent out only one property, and a permit is needed for offering an entire apartment. Barcelona, Paris and Berlin have also aggressively reined in short-term rentals.

New York City began enforcing new rules in September that Airbnb called “a de facto ban on short-term rentals.” Hosts must register with the city, can’t rent out an entire property and must be present when they have paying guests.


2 thoughts on “Random News Roundup I: From Woodstoves to Airbnbs”

  1. Guilty. That’s me.

    And my stove is more than 100 years old and so hardly certified except that the founder of the stove company would hardly be considered an entrepreneur today. He lived modestly and had many philanthropic orgs to assist his workers and the people of the town.


    In my defence almost everything I burn is diverted from the landfill.


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