A Winter’s Tale

“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.


20 thoughts on “A Winter’s Tale”

  1. Germany has been in the forefront of the enviro nazis (sorry) and will be the first to see the consequences. What is it about Germans that causes them to adopt these odd theories and then follow them to destruction ? The Spanish realized that wind power and solar were not a reliable source of energy. Why not the Germans ?

  2. I don’t think Germans are unique in adopting odd theories, Mike. David points out nicely that people often take some of Newton’s laws upon themselves. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Until…
    People just want to go about their lives unmolested and unimpeded. That status quo has a very high tolerance of pain. Until…
    David’s pastiche reminded me of the great scene in the 1930’s Warner Brothers’ film production of Robin Hood.
    Robin (played by Errol Flynn in his prime-check it out, you youngsters) crashes Prince John’s banquet with a dead stag draped over his shoulders. Poached from the forest-all deer were the King’s deer, and thus John’s. He then proceeds to tell the Prince (I’ll paraphrase, here) that he is a parasitic boil on the arse of the yeomanry, and that further, he deserves the heave-ho forthwith and Robin plans to do plenty about it.
    Now, at about the same time, the Germans saw their Robin Hood in the form of Adolph Hitler. It may be hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys when the power goes out.

  3. “That status quo has a very hight tolerance of pain.”
    That’s usually some body else’s pain. Understanding can be a long time in coming, and the longer it takes, the worse it is.

  4. Energy costs here in the Colorado Springs area are certainly rising fast. I recently received our December, 2012 electric bill. Our home is all electric, with some passive solar, so I expect rather large bills in the winter, but at $347.03, it was higher than expected, so I looked back at previous years. In December, 2008, we coincidentally used the exact same number of Kw as in December, 2012, and the bill was $248.18. That’s an increase of 40% in 4 years. I think I need to look at a wood stove myself.

  5. Southern California is experiencing Jerry Brown’s nirvana as he has an all lefty legislature. I have moved from Lake Arrowhead, where the cost of heating the house last winter was reasonable in spite of below freezing weather, to a one bedroom condo in Orange County and got my first Edison bill for a full winter month. Also all electric but the place isn’t that big. It was about $220.

  6. Mike K, the Spanish didn’t realise anything. Their economy imploded and they simply couldn’t afford to be spending money on their pet projects anymore, not with people marching in the streets demanding heads on a plate. I am quite certain that had the money not run out, they’d still be happily funding their green energy projects… until the money ran out.

  7. The Spanish did realize some things, to be fair.

    For instance, they figured out that “solar” companies that were generating electricity at night time were probably cheating.

    But I don’t suppose all the crooks were that careless.

  8. “Mike K, the Spanish didn’t realise anything. Their economy imploded and they simply couldn’t afford to be spending money on their pet projects anymore”

    I think they began to realize that solar was not working before the implosion. There was a lot of anger toward the government. I was there in May 2010 and heard some of it. I wonder if they would have done better if the conservative government had stayed in power.

    At least the Australian socialists were willing to learn about power generation. Rudd changed course after he was elected. Not Obama or the Spanish socialist.

  9. Also, higher energy costs don’t only impact consumers directly, they also impact them indirectly by making manufacturing…and some other types of businesses…more expensive.

    Not only do Gretchen and Hans have to keep their heater turned down so low that they are desperately seeking wood for their old-fashioned stove…also, Hans loses his job at the turbine plant when Siemens finally gets tired of paying so much in electricity bills (in addition to all the other high costs of operating a factory in Germany) and moves it to another country. And Gretchen is in danger of losing HER job in data center operations for the same reason.

  10. Commitment to the individual’s well being is not important when you’re trying to change the world in the name of the people.

    “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK,” Barack Obama

    Its here too.

  11. Peter…and, of course, Barack Obama will set his OWN thermostat to whatever he wants. The people who will be keeping their houses at 58 degrees in winter to avoid heating-cost bankruptcy will not include, for instance, Al Gore, who has used his advocacy of environmental causes (together with the name recognition he gained from his “public service”) to become wealthy.

    The great goddess Gaia must have victims, but they will not include the high priests of that goddess.

  12. Derek Jeter is concerned about climate change. Somehow I don’t think he’s going to be turning the thermostat down at his mansion.

    At least he…unlike Gore…earned his money in ways other than priesthood and “public service.”

    Note the company that invited Jeter to Davos.

  13. }}} For instance, they figured out that “solar” companies that were generating electricity at night time were probably cheating.

    No, no, no… the panels… they… they were just pinin’ for the fjords.

  14. I used to be pretty good friends with the local lumber cops. Mac Blo had a guy called Frenchy who patrolled the area looking for fools taking trees.

    I heated with wood for nearly 20 years. A live tree is almost useless unless you are prepared to wait 6 months or so for it to dry out. The only useful heating materials in the forest are dead trees and some dead brush. As I understood this and never cut a live tree Frenchy and I had no quarrel, and as he really liked my massive wolfhound/shepard cross, I was persona grata in the Mac Blo timber lands.

    Again, you cannot just go kill trees and burn them. My personal record, with long dead Arbutus, was 52 minutes to go out and bring back a chord and dump it on the ground.

  15. It sounds like the people in Germany were not cutting live trees, but were snatching wood piles that other people had (presumably legally) cut but had not yet picked up.

  16. The notion of ‘windfall’ profits comes from taking wood from forests. While it is illegal to cut down a tree or cut off a limb (the penalty is death), it is permitted to take branches or even whole trees that are on the ground due to winds. German forest floors are very clean and tidy because all the windfalls are quickly removed.

  17. Maybe windfall rights are why there are damned few critters in Europe. All that junk wood is somebody’s habitat. I spent two weeks in a hilltop villa in rural Italy and saw one (1) critter the entire time (although it was a porcupine which was cool). The comparable Missouri landscape would have been crawling with deer, turkey, coyote, possum, rabbit, even black bear. The villa had a completely unscreened kitchen garden full of tomatoes, plums, whatever. Impossible in my inner St. Louis suburb – damned critters.

    And yet we’re the ones with all the guns.

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