Link Should fireplace fires be banned? Jeffrey Earl Warren Under the auspices of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, "public hearings" are being held to determine the fate of the family hearth. Those of us who live in rural areas have a pretty good idea what the outcome is going to be. Still, in the interest of basic fairness, we'd at least like the decision-makers to employ the rudiments of the scientific method, rather than riding the winds of energy dependence and global warming hysteria, before coming to a final decision. The scientific method follows a rigid methodology. Ask a question. Do background research. Construct a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis. And then, communicate the results. So what is the question? Are the fires in our homes bad because they add to global warming? Release carbon dioxide into the air? Pollute the atmosphere with soot and particulate matter? All of the above? Where is the research? The Chronicle reported that "government studies" indicate that 33 percent of all "particulate matter" comes from your fireplace and mine. With all the industry and all the cars in the Bay Area, does anyone actually believe that? Shouldn't we be given more quantitative information such has, "How many fireplaces are there in the nine counties? How many are used each night? How many hours is each fireplace used? How much "particulate matter" is expelled from each fire? How many parts per million are in the air? How much dissipates into the atmosphere?" Is this decision truly about air quality or global warming? Interestingly, one loses on the issues of global warming because the odd paradox is, the more there is cloud cover or "smoke" in the air, the cooler the Earth will be. It is well documented how the Earth's temperature cooled after the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa. From that standpoint, one ought to encourage fires which produce the maximum amount of smoke. Of course, that position is politically absurd. Those of us in rural communities feel bullied by this sort of nanny state legislation. We'd like to believe that a man's home is indeed his castle. Most of us live in small towns or the country for a reason. We don't like cities. We don't like traffic. We don't like noise. We don't like the dirty air. Our air is clean, and we take umbrage when someone says our fires are polluting their air. If the ban goes into effect, what is the cost to society? What is the benefit? We need to weigh these carefully. Then there is this question: Why do we burn? We stoke our hearths for two reasons. First, many rural people burn wood because they can't afford to heat their old houses with electricity. Many more feel that burning wood does less damage to the planet than increasing their carbon footprint by using so much electricity. Banning fires would hurt the elderly who live on fixed incomes and the poor in general. It would be an added tax on the rest of us and increase dependence on petroleum. Second, for many of us, a fire crackling in the fireplace is about a different kind of energy - psychic energy. After a day's work, is there anything nicer than coming home and having a class of Napa Valley Cabernet in front of a roaring fire? Rainy Sundays find us stretched out on the couch, newspapers scattered, 49ers on the TV, and a fire roaring in the fireplace. On wintry school nights, our children used to come down into the living room to do their homework in front of the fire as my wife and I read. During the energy crisis in California, our family closed the parlor doors and gathered in one tiny room around the fire. it was a scene out of a Jane Austin novel. Five of us read, played chess, did homework and paid bills, in a chilly room heated only by our tiny hearth. Never was our family closer. The fire was more than a source of heat. It was a mystical, magical magnet of love, warmth and togetherness. We worry that the real issue here isn't about health, global warming or energy savings, but about control. Were it not about control, the dialogue would be about baffles and filters to eliminate soot, not about outright bans. Home fires are not about "particulate matter." They are about warmth, love, quality of life - and for many an economic necessity. How cold are those who would take that from us, their neighbors? Jeffrey Earl Warren lives in St. Helena. His columns can be read at www.jeffwarren.com.