PostHeaderIcon Act Green: Soot, Stoves, Solutions

Posted on: Friday, April 17th, 2009 at 9:40 am

Imagine solving (okay, curbing) both global warming and the public health issues related to indoor pollution with just $20. It could be as simple as converting indoor cooking stoves in places like rural India to existing, cleaner technologies at the cost of $20 per stove—and would reap immediate results that would put a dent in worldwide global warming levels.

This article, Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight, examines black carbon, triggered by “recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide.” Reducing black carbon emissions is one example of “low hanging fruit” to seize because there are relatively inexpensive and accessible measures that could rapidly decrease the amount of black carbon in the atmosphere. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers for years, black carbon (or “soot”) disappears within weeks.
The New York Times article explains that while it travels in the air, soot radiates heat, and then lands on ice caps (like Himalayan glaciers), for example, and the dark matter accelerates the melting of these bodies of ice. So, soot generates heat, thereby contributing to global warming. But the article paints a clearer, more complete picture of the problem by taking readers into a village, and into a home in that village. A mother cooks roti for her family in Kohlua, India and the open fire releases black carbon into her own home and her children cough and wheeze—the effect of black carbon is immediate and extraordinarily hazardous.

Replacing mud cook stoves with alternative stoves (some models are solar-powered, all are more efficient) would cut soot by 90%, and cost about $20 per stove. Project Surya, a pilot program, is testing different models in villages in India, and balancing sensitivity and understanding of the cultural impact with urgency on taking action.

In the United States, Congressman Inslee (WA-01) introduced the Black Carbon Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 in March, which will require an assessment of the impact of black carbon and enforce regulations in the U.S. and spur the State Department and EPA to provide international assistance to further reduce black carbon pollution. We applaud this bill for its swift call to action, and it has been included in the Congressman Waxman and Congressman Markey’s recently released American Clean Energy and Security Act, a comprehensive piece of clean energy and global warming legislation.

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