Improved Wood Stoves could improve air quality and health
Two billion people worldwide do their cooking on open fires, producing sooty pollution that shortens millions of lives and exacerbates global warming. If widely adopted, a new generation of inexpensive, durable cook stoves could go a long way toward alleviating this problem.
With a single, concerted initiative, says Lakshman Guruswami, the world could save millions of people in poor nations from respiratory ailments and early death, while dealing a big blow to global warming — and all at a surprisingly small cost.
"If we could supply cheap, clean-burning cook stoves to the large portion of the world that burns biomass," says Guruswami, a Sri Lankan-born professor of international law at the University of Colorado, "we could address a significant international public health problem, and at the same stroke cut a major source of warming."
Sooty, indoor air pollution from open wood or other biomass fires has long been linked to health problems and deaths. More recently, scientists have been surprised to learn that black carbon — not only from biomass fires but from dirty diesel engines and other sources — is a far larger contributor to global warming than previously suspected: The dark particles absorb and retain heat close to the Earth’s surface that might otherwise be reflected.
Some two billion people around the world, Guruswami notes, do most or all of their cooking and heating with fires from simple biomass — dried dung, wood, brush, or crop residues. In India alone, the ratio is much higher — about three-fourths.
"Think about that," says Guruswami, who directs his university’s Center for Energy and Environmental Security. "Two billion people, one-third of the people on Earth, are caught in a time warp, with no access to modern energy. They got energy from Prometheus a long time ago, and that was it."