“It is so cold in here,” said Gretchen. “The fire is almost out.”
“I will go to our woodpile and bring more wood,” said Hans.
“There is none left, Hans,” replied Gretchen sadly. “We have used all our wood that we saved for the winter.”
“I will go into the great forest,” responded Hans, “and bring more.”
“Hans!” said Gretchen with alarm. “The forest wardens will take you! I have heard that there are more of them, and they are fiercer than ever toward wood thieves!”
“Nonetheless, I must try, dear Gretchen,” replied Hans firmly, “for you and for the little ones.” He put on his thin overcoat, opened the door, and stepped outside into the icy, howling blast.
A folk tale from the Middle Ages?
Actually, this could be a story from today’s Germany. Energy costs are now so high, and rising so fast, that many people are buying wood stoves…and some of them are stealing wood from the forests to feed those stoves.
Some history…Widespread deforestation in Europe, reaching crisis levels by the late 1500s, was driven by the growing need for wood for heating and (via conversion to charcoal) metal smelting and other industrial processes. The situation was rescued through the adoption of coal as a common heating fuel (greatly assisted by the introduction of steam engines for pumping water out of mines) and the innovation of coke (made from coal in a way similar to the way charcoal is made from wood) for applications as diverse as ironworking and brewing.
People in the developed world have gotten very accustomed to being able to heat their homes simply by turning a switch, a valve, or a dial. But this ability depends on a vast unseen infrastructure of mines, railroads, oil and gas wells, pipelines, and power plants.
The anti-fossil-fuel and anti-nuclear hysteria fomented by environmental extremists…and increasingly accepted by governments…will mean that an increasing number of people in developed countries will find adequate heat to be a luxury.