A Warm Start

👤Joanne Campbell 🕔Dec 01, 2012

I sat across from the fireplace, keeping an eye on the fire to see if it was burning hot enough to leave it untended. It was touch-and-go—the flames were showy but were now dying down before a bed of coals could be created. I’d brought the logs in a few hours earlier—was the wood warm enough? I wondered.

I’ve heard people talk in the summer, about the number of forest fires dropping because the weather turned colder. Is this true? Does wood burn more reluctantly when it’s cold? At the time, I thought it silly, but now I wondered: could it be so? If true, I assumed that cold wood would burn less quickly than warm wood because more energy is used to heat the wood to the temperature of combustion. If only a finite amount of energy (heat from kindling fire) is available to heat the wood, and if the wood is cold (especially a big log), would warming the wood to room temperature give it a head start to make a better fire?

Well, I’m obviously not a scientist, so I googled the subject. It appears that either I’m the only person in the world that doesn’t know the answer to this question or I’m the only one who’s ever wondered, because I couldn’t find a single website that mentioned if the starting temperature of firewood mattered. I found that jet fuel burns better if it’s pre-heated, but wood? No one’s saying.

Left hanging by Google, I wandered back to my seat by the fire. As I watched the flames, I thought of this issue of Northword and of the many people in this region who are keeping an eye on the slow burn surrounding issues such as sustainable mining in general and the Northern Gateway pipeline in particular. In regards to the Enbridge line, we’ve been told that the Joint Review Panel is only interested in presentations of cold, hard facts. As with other resource-oriented projects, we’re told their review needs to be driven by scientific data—no hot-headed or sentimental emotions, thank you, ma’am.

The logs shifted and opened up a path for the air to flow; new flames burst into life and the fire was on again!

In the same way that wood without oxygen does not a fire make, a debate without emotion is just a cold pile of facts. A good fire needs fuel and oxygen. A good debate needs facts and emotion. Rub people the wrong way and you get sparks—friction causes heat and heat causes change: you can’t make a soufflé or forge iron without heat; popcorn is just corn without the pop. Heat is survival: light, warmth, sustenance.

Without fire and the resulting changes in our behaviour, we’d have just wandered out of our caves and off into the jaws awaiting us in the dark. The way we evolved was to light a fire in our intellect. The evolved human doesn’t mean the emotionless human—it means the human who can add intellect to emotion for a practical, academic or philosophical outcome. Intellect fuelled by emotion gives us passion and passion is what gets things done.

Now, getting back to those warm logs and the rest of this metaphor: to keep the heat on the debates to ensure sustainable, responsible resource management, we have to manage the combustion process. Always be informed; don’t be surprised by new situations—you’ll be more effective with a warm start. And don’t go all combustible right away! You don’t want to spend too much energy at the outset in case you fizzle out of energy before you reach completion. Keep the fire burning, build a good base of coals, but pace yourself: keep some energy for that darkest hour before dawn when you’ll need your energy most.

You never know—it could be a long night.