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2013 February 03 Sunday
Greek Heating Oil Too Expensive, Shift To Wood Burning

It is no wonder that an overwhelming majority of Greeks want to emigrate. Very high unemployment, cuts in wages, tax increases. A 450% heating oil tax hike in Greece has caused a massive shift to wood burning. Demand for heating oil has plummeted by more than half. Air quality is suffering.

At the same time, the smoke from the burning of wood — and often just about anything else that will catch fire — has caused spikes in air pollution that worry health officials. On some nights, the smog is clearly visible above Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, and in Athens, where particulate matter has been measured at three times the normal levels.

Fireplace wood is heavily polluting. Another consideration when deciding where to live when TSHTF. Colder areas will have worse winter air quality.

According to the EPA, a fireplace emits more than 2,000 times the amount of fine particles that an oil furnace does.

With the Greek unemployment rate at 26% the country serves as a glimpse into the future when the United States has its next financial panic.

Some people live in buildings that are not meant to house humans.

Mr Vrahasotakis, who is not entitled to state benefits, lives with his wife and 18-month-old daughter in an old building that used to be a canteen.

"In the winter it is freezing and a few months ago part of the ceiling caved in," he says.

The Greeks who can get a job work long hours.

In terms of employment, some 60% of people aged 15 to 64 in Greece have a paid job, below the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 71% of men are in paid work, compared with 48% of women, suggesting that women encounter difficulties in balancing family and career. People in Greece work 2109 hours a year, more than most people in the OECD who work 1749 hours on average.

Better to work long hours than to work sporadically.

The Greek government has also raised income taxes.

It also increased top income tax rate to 42 per cent from 40 per cent for Greeks earning more than US$56,000 a year, which is the higher-end of middle class average in Greece.

While there is outrage in Greece about rich people who avoid taxes my guess is the rich will leave rather than be forced to pay high taxes. They'll move their main offices to other countries.

What's weird about Greece's crisis: several other European countries have higher debt-to-GDP ratios. Note in that chart that those countries are not managing to deleverage.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 February 03 09:07 PM 


Comments
AMac said at February 4, 2013 4:38 AM:

My understanding is that Franklin type stoves were a significant improvement over fireplaces in terms of both generation of usable heat per unit fuel, and generation of air pollution (most notably particulates) per unit usable heat.

The efficient airtight wood stoves of the 1980s were, in turn, much better than Franklin stoves in terms of efficiency, but much worse in terms of particulate generation. Their design enables a load of wood to last overnight, but the resulting partial combustion yields higher pollution (CO as well as particulates).

What about the current generation of advanced wood stoves? They have designs that are intended to combine the virtues of both earlier types of heater. Some include catalytic converters as after-combustion chambers, which presumably reduce particulates when they are at operating temperature.

Are Greeks using modern units in their switch from oil? Doubtful. How well do modern units work if material other than wood is used? E.g. are the catalysts poisoned by "stuff"?

bbartlog said at February 4, 2013 6:48 AM:

Many of the Greeks are using fireplaces, according to the article. Bogglement.
The whole thing is very interesting - it's a perfect microcosm of government stupidity, unintended consequences, and microeconomics. If I were teaching some economics and policy course I'd find a way to use it as a real world example. The Laffer curve is in there (read about the actual revenues generated by their tax hike). So are some interesting externalities, bureaucrats trying to justify themselves, imperfect substitute goods, and so on.
I doubt the Greeks have the timber holdings to do this long-term in any case.
@AMac: interesting point about the particulate problems of those efficient airtight woodstoves. I have a number of friends and neighbors who have these kinds of outdoor, woodburning, combination house-and-water heater stoves. And I had wondered why they generally had a visible plume of smoke (unlike the stove I have in my house, which only smokes on startup). Now I know!

Randall Parker said at February 4, 2013 7:35 PM:

AMac,

I was amazed to read in that article that they've got 4th floor apartments with fireplaces. Must be really old buildings.

They've got to have old fireplaces and old wood stoves. If we suddenly had unaffordable oil and natural gas most people would burn wood in very inefficient and polluting fireplaces or other stuff far from the state of the art.

bbartlog,

Yes, what they are doing is not sustainable. The same would happen here.

Ground sink heat pumps are the way to go. Throw in solar panels on the roof and at least during the sunlight hours a house could get warmed up after TSHTF. Granted, those hours are short in the winter.

WJ said at February 5, 2013 12:32 PM:

Next headline will be: "Greek olives and lambs too expensive. Shift to eating people."


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