Andrew - Thank you for looking into the source material and confirming that Harris is building his case using solid science. We may have to disagree about him sensationalizing it, which is rather subjective, but glad we can agree that science has confirmed that wood fires/smoke are quite harmful for you. Moderation is another issue, and then again, there are people that smoke tobacco and don't get cancer.
Harris not focusing on the alternatives I think is not so much a shortcoming on his part, but a limitation of the scope of the text. He wanted to make an apt analogy, which I think he did quite well, not jump into the rabbit hole of all of the nuances of natural gas production and consumption. But your point is well taken about natural gas. I don't know much about natural gas, but the little I do know is that solar and wind power seem to be overall much better for the environment, and would advocate their use--but this is the subject of another thread, methinks.
Justin - "Cesar, I remember when you started a flame war on bushcraft usa about people who carry 30lbs of steel and complain about their pack weight."
I remember it too, but I wouldn't characterize it as me starting a flame war. A guy asked for feedback on a video of his where he showed off his gear. I gave him feedback and he and others didn't like it for some pretty absurd reasons. I remember posting a link to the video on here shortly after, because it was pretty shocking to those of us that are into lightweight BPing. He had I think 4 knives, an axe, and a machete; and he had like 6 liters of water, but lives in PA. Anyhow, needless to say, I don't miss BCUSA at all, but all this is a neither here nor there.
Roger - "For a start, it's in a blog. No scientific (or common sense) checking at all. Blogs like that are very often written by people with a real nut-case bee in their bonnets, and distort the name of science to an extreme. I am not saying this author has done that, just that it is possible. The more extreme the claims, the more likely."
You did see Andrew's assessment of Harris' citations, and you even asked to have him send you the source. So I think it is dishonest of you to first say that it's just a blog, for one (i.e. appeal to authority fallacy). Then you suggest there is no scientific checking, and that often blog authors are nutcases (ad hom fallacy)--yet then, what is confusing, is that you say that this author may or may not be doing that. Why bother to rant about it then? It comes off like you wanted to make some hasty accusations, without directly addressing the text, and then evasively state that you are not saying these accusations apply to Harris (but that it's possible).
"Next, humanity has survived many hundreds of thousands of years (and I do means that) sitting around small (and often smoky) wood fires. We have evolved from primitive species to modern man in the company of small wood fires. Does this suggest that the fires are highly toxic to us - or that maybe we are quite adapted to them?"
You ignore the fact that humanity has also increased its life span significantly since we were hunter-gatherers, not to mention that humanity has survived doing all sorts of things--this does not mean that all of what we have done to survive are good or preferred methods of our continued well-being. For hundreds of thousands of years man survived without modern medicine and things we now take for granted like sanitizing wounds with things like rubbing alcohol and such. Think of all the people that must have died from preventible infections.
You suggest that we are quite adapted to wood fires. Not sure what you mean exactly. That our bodies are adapted to wood smoke? Because surely this is not the case. There are many toxic chemicals in wood smoke, and if you are exposed to them often, your risk for cancer and heart conditions increases, from what I gather.
Next, had you read the rest of Harris' article, you would have read the following, which you have pretty much proved Harris' point with your appeal to our use of fire to survive as a species:
"I suspect that many of you have already begun to marshal counterarguments of a sort that will be familiar to anyone who has debated the validity and usefulness of religion. Here is one: Human beings have warmed themselves around fires for tens of thousands of years, and this practice was instrumental in our survival as a species. Without fire there would be no material culture. Nothing is more natural to us than burning wood to stay warm.
True enough. But many other things are just as natural—such as dying at the ripe old age of thirty. Dying in childbirth is eminently natural, as is premature death from scores of diseases that are now preventable. Getting eaten by a lion or a bear is also your birthright—or would be, but for the protective artifice of civilization—and becoming a meal for a larger carnivore would connect you to the deep history of our species as surely as the pleasures of the hearth ever could. For nearly two centuries the divide between what is natural—and all the needless misery that entails—and what is good has been growing. Breathing the fumes issuing from your neighbor’s chimney, or from your own, now falls on the wrong side of that divide. "
Again, I include Harris' point about religion so you could get the full context of the above quote, but my focus here is of course on wood fires and not religion.
"The claims that wood smoke contains 'hundreds of compounds known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, and irritating to the respiratory system' may well be true, but what is missing there is any mention of concentration. This is typical of such hysterical arguments. FACT: the human immune system relies on the continued presence of low levels of harmful things to keep it primed to protect us. Grow up in an utterly sterile and clean environment and you become a 'bubble baby': you will die when you meet the real world."
This is a red herring. No amount of toxic chemicals is good for you, period. And while it is true that the human immune system functions better when primed, you wouldn't smoke a big cigar while you held a newborn baby, now would you? And you also include toxins and things like bacteria together when you use the blanket term "harmful things" in relation to priming our immune system. Being exposed to bacteria and being exposed to toxins are two entirely different things, which affect our bodies and our bodies processes much differently. For instance, having a chicken pox party so that children can be exposed to this illness and then build a subsequent immunity to it is one thing. Gathering children together into a room full of smoke in an absurd attempt to "toughen" them up or prime their immune system is another thing, and I would be surprised if you could find scientific scholarship that would support such a thing.
"I am stirred to comment when anyone trys to misuse science in pursuit of some mad quasi-religeous agenda. That would be the case here."
I don't see how Harris or the other source I cited was misusing science. Harris' agenda is ironically against religion--his point is that people often defend traditions irrationally, i.e. because fires bring people warmth and comfort, they don't want to believe that they are harmful, and will go through great lengths (as you have done) to justify the continued use of wood fires (e.g. appeals to tradition, priming our immune systems, etc.).
You are just using a bare assertion in claiming that this is a case of someone misusing science in a pursuit of a mad quasi-religions agenda, and your rebuttals don't substantiate this claim, as I have elaborated on above.
Others have been more honest in their contributions and have been able to recognize that wood smoke is indeed harmful, but to strive for moderation. This I can respect, and to a degree, this is close to how I intend on addressing this issue. I plan on avoiding wood fires/smoke, but because I enjoy them so much, there will be times I break down and sit by a cozy campfire. But where we go from here collectively as a community of outdoor enthusiasts that come into contact perhaps more thank most people with wood fires, this is the crux of the issue.
Do we accept the facts and strive for moderation and avoidance of a clearly harmful aspect of the outdoor experience? Or do we stamp our feet in denial of the scientific facts and continue to promote and practice this harmful aspect? I don't mean to suggest that this is a false dichotomy, and would of course be open to more nuanced solutions, but as I see it, these seem to be two significant factions of this discussion.
A disclaimer: please don't take the above personally. This medium of communication has inherent limitations. You can't use my body language or intonations in my voice to build an entirely accurate idea of my intentions or tone. I assure you I am not angry or offended or anything like that. We just disagree on some key points. My aim is for civil and polite discourse, though I am human too, so forgive me if ever come across as anything other than interested in a positive intellectual exchange of ideas. :)