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Greeks rather die from fireplace smog than pay exorbitant heating oil prices

Everybody is warning us. The Environment Ministry, the National Centre for Disease Control & Prevention, the Greek Doctors’ Association. They all urge us to immediately stop burning wood in the fireplaces and stoves and turn on the heating oil or natural gas system to comfortably pass through the cold winter days.

They tell us of unhealthy fumes, of cancer causing particles, of respiratory and heart problems and allergies triggered by burning wood and pellets of unknown origin and composition. They even speak of dangers for our neurological and reproductive systems.

The appeal to parents of babies and young children and caretakers of chronic ill. “Stop burning wood” read the slogan.

They caution on the inscreased pollution measurements especially in Athens but also in other big cities like Thessaloniki, Larissa… Theyspeak of an almost toxic smog.

Athens by smog: Dec 26, 2012. Picture by Yannis Larios

They admonish us about the health risks we are going to face if we insist in not paying the exorbitant heating oil and natural gas prices. 2,000 liters of heating oil at a price of a total 3,200 euro, paid in advance. Ha!

They speak of horrible, tricky and invisible tiny bits of dangerous material swinging inside our homes or outside in the atmosphere.

But all those caring institutions do not advice us where we all find the money to pay the heating bills, that went up by 50% when compared to those of last year.

So we sit in front of the fire place or the stove and caugh. Evening in, evening out. We caugh and wonder whether the reason for our caughing is a winter virus infection, a simple cold or the invisible leathal particles.

We sit there with our music producing lungs. It’s not the sound of a happily pouring cat or the sound of the development and growth coming in our county. It’s the wheezing of our affected lungs whether due to weather and viruses or due to air polllution.

 We sit right in front of the fire place and caugh our lungs out. Like the old Dickens characters who caugh everytime they actually attempt to laugh.

 But who cares? At least, we will die …warmed up.  There is this damned possibility that we will have neither a home, nor a fire place next year.

Property owners will have to pay to the state six different taxes for one single property until April 2013.

So, who cares about death by smog?

By the way: All these caring institutions do not say a single word on air pollution and neccessity of anti-pollution measures when the summer temperatures having us live and hardly breath inside a suffocating smog cloche.

Charles Dickens – Bleak House, written 1852-1853:

“Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun….

 Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

 Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard and unwilling look.

 “Fog in the eyes and throats… wheezing by the firesides….”

 When one thinks of the Troika imposed abolished labour rights and the minimum wages, we in Greece are living in pre-industrial times anyway. Even though the calender tells us it’s the year 2-0-1-3.

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  1. Hm… I’m Norwegian, and we’ve had our houses warmed by fireplaces as long as there’s been houses in Norway. We’re also among the people with longest life expectancy. Depends of what your burning in the stove of course, but (unpainted or otherwise untreated) wood is fine!

    • keeptalkinggreece

      I(we) know. But for some reason the smog is awful these days. We don’t have the famous Norwegian wood here lol

      • Athens is build in a bowl. And when there is not enough wind smoke will hang in that bowl. Happens with smog on hot days. Did happen when we were young when burning the stoves in winter. And is still happening now so many are starting to burn wood again.
        And not only in Athens. All over Greece valleys are filled with smoke each winter because of the burning of branches in the fields when pruning the olive trees.

    • Amy, but in Norway you don’t have 4 million in your capital I imagine burning wood. Even unpainted or otherwise untreated wood in large quantities is not goot to breathe.

  2. Burning wood through dirty chimneys can create an odourless but fatal gas,carbon monoxide (also as we know gas can too). In the UK and other western countries carbon monoxide detectors are available free or for little money (5 or 10 euros). I have always been surprised that these (plus fire alarms 5 or 10 euros) do not seem to be sold here, not even in Lidl.
    The government need to review the heating situation here, which is very serious. What happens when the wood runs out? Are there any sustainable trees being planted in Greece?
    Everything changes so slowly here, yes, where/how will we all be this time next year?

    • keeptalkinggreece

      they have massively imported wood form Bulgaria and Skopje with the effect that prices went up in these two countries.

      • Didn’t the Church offer land to people who need it? It would be a very good idea for any village that has church owned land somewhere near the village to try and make an arrangement that the land can be used to grow sustainable fire wood for use by the village. It doesn’t really need all that much work, the climat here is good enough to grow fast growing species like meta sequioa etc. Rotate the crop and before you know it villages could be self sufficient in terms of heating requirements.
        Just don’t make the mistake they made in Ireland and start growing acres upon acres of spruce. It looks horrible, doesn’t sustain wild life, poisons the land and is useless as both fire wood and Xmas trees…

        • keeptalkinggreece

          I was asked by many people whether I would burn my Xmas tree at the end of the season, but I said, I won’t. Not dry enough and I am afraid of the fresh burning needles jumping around my home.

        • We must not start making the same mistakes in Greece as we made for decades in Third World countries. Fast growing trees have one huge problem: they use a lot of water. And that is something Greece really doesn’t have in most places.
          Use of underground heat and good insulation are two things that could solve an awful lot of the problems around heating in Greece.

  3. I was just reading the book “What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew” by Danel Pool. Here is some of what he had to say about the air in London: “… at eight o’clock in the morning on the average day over London, an abserver reported the sky began to turn black with the smoke from thousands of coal fires, presumably for morning fires to warm dining rooms and bedrooms and to cook breakfast. Ladies going to the opera at night with white shawls returned with them gray. It has been suggested that the black umbrella put in its appearance because it did not show the effects of these London atmospherics. The fog was so thick, observed a foreigner at mid-century, that you could take a man by the had and not be able to see his face and people literally lost their way and drowned in the Thames. In a very bad week in 1873 more than 700 people above the normal average for the period died in the city, and cattle at an exhibition suffocated to death…”

    The poor masses only ate a hot meal once a week and that was cooked at a public place.

    Anyway, I hope things get better in Greece.

    • keeptalkinggreece

      wonderful!!! thank you so much about this excerpt.
      I have a black umbrella with white spots. I will use them as alarm device. The moment they will turn grey, I will start counting my days.

      • I like your sense of humour!!! I will have to read “Bleak House.” I read “Hard Times” a while back and it had a lot about pollution too. I guess it was a pressing theme. Even the rich people had to put up with the stink of the Thames in summer for some time if their houses were near it. I remember in high school biology the example of the brown moth getting an environmental benefit in England due to the pollution while the white moth experienced a disadvantage for it could be quickly spotted on the dirty tree trunks and be eaten by predators.

        • keeptalkinggreece

          Jean, I could believe als now it’s the rich who complain about the air-pollution produced by the poor who cannot afford to buy heating oil but prefer to burn wood of any kind (even from furniture). Unfortunately the air we breathe is common for all social classes.
          BTW: I wonder why in summer nobody complains about the heavy unhealthy smog in Athens. probably because the air in Mykonos, syros, Ionian silands etc is much cleaner.

  4. Well we had an open fire for 17 years, but when we moved to our brand new house 10 years ago decided to go for central heating…m husband was fed up of collecting wood, but I will save we never coughed…it was fine…..this year our central heating container was full from last year, so we still have central heating. However next year, I am sure we are going to buy a wood burning stove to put in, and burn all the olive tree branches that we prune at the end of the olive picking season. Whatever we do in life is wrong…if we burn wood it is not good for us etc and so forth and if we use petrol we are using up all the world’s natural resources etc and so forth…so do what you have to do….the way the world is going we are going to run out of natural resources is the not too distance get out there and do what you can…

    • keeptalkinggreece

      Christine, I believe the smog comes also from the petrol containing firestarters and the small pieces of wood to start the fire, that are soaked in retine or something of what-ever origin and composition. My sentivie and allergy-ridden nose had caught that petrol smell already end of November before the smog started.
      and you’re right. whatever we do – they tell us – is wrong. We should abandon this planet but how?