Ginnie moved into the house about 20 years ago and there was a pile of coal in an outhouse... they didn't use solid fuel and it sat there. She's selling up and wants the place as tidy and clean as possible, so she asked me if I wanted the coal. Our stoves are 'multifuel', meaning they'll burn wood or coal in a smoke-free way, so that meant I was in a position to say yes.
However, this carbon was fossil carbon, extracted from the air millions of years ago. And I've made a conscious decision to be as 'low carbon' as possible... that's mainly fossil carbon, but it also pertains to not wasting renewable energy too. So, a dilemma. What to do with this coal? Should I say, no, I don't want it, and let her find someone else to dig it out, bag it up, drive it somewhere and burn it? Or should I spend time bagging it up, to help Ginnie, and then take it to Hazel court to be landfilled, or find somewhere to bury it? These last two options would mean the fossil carbon would be locked up underground, the ideal situation. But if I used the coal, it would add a little to my carbon footprint... which is about a twelfth of the UK average... so this 'carbon expenditure' wouldn't make my footprint particularly large, just a bit bigger than it would be if I'd just carried on using wood. It would add carbon dioxide to the air, probably a similar amount that the logs would, that I would need to burn to get the same amount of heat. There is a theoretical difference between carbon locked away millions of years ago and that sequestered by plants more recently, although the molecules of CO2 are exactly the same.
I decided to help Ginnie, and to bring the coal home, and use it to supplement our log piles.
So I filled lots of sacks and bags with the whole lot, probably about 250kg, and did several cycle rides back home with them in my trailer.
Later, I asked my facebook friends what they suggested I do with it. Several said 'make an artwork' out of it (my mind boggled at how I should do this!) and several others said yes, just use it, as my years and years of being low carbon would not be undone by this small high-carbon act. The burial solution was mentioned too, but by this time I'd spent several hours digging the stuff out, and the idea of chucking it away wasn't that appealing.
I'd love to know blog-readers' opinions. Am I a hypocrite? Am I just taking advantage of a freebie? Does this 250kg coal being burnt 'matter' in the bigger scheme of things? Should I burn it with a clean conscience?