Green lungs: good firewood, healthy air, and embodied forest politics
In southern Chile a coalition of environmental, labor, and municipal leaders is rolling out a novel approach to environmental regulation. The National Firewood Certification System provides a seal of approval to firewood that is produced and sold according to standards of sustainability, transparency, and quality. Firewood certification is distinct from Fair Trade, organic, or other market- based programs to the extent that it blurs the lines between nature conservation (preserving native forest) and public health (improving indoor air quality, controlling urban smog). Certification's advocates are explicit about leveraging the public health dimension of 'good' (ie clean, dry) firewood to promote 'good' (ie sustainable, conservationist) management of native forest; they are quite literally networking lungs to forests. I had come to Chile to study forest certification in a very different register—an international NGO certifying million-hectare plantations for the global pulp market. The local and provisional quality of the firewood program made for a striking contrast, but not as striking as the immediacy and physicality of the product: the firewood itself. As I hacked and wheezed in front of my woodstove, as I considered that I was perhaps exposing my family's lungs to carcinogens and acute respiratory infections, I came to see the consumer–producer networks of certification in a different light. This paper examines firewood certification as a market-based social movement and as a visceral experiment in creating environmental consciousness. My ethnographic perspective is informed by heat, smoke, and aching lungs.
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