Thursday, 21 October 2010

No Leaf Bonfires Any More, But Lots of Polluting Vehicles: The Need for High Efficiency Stoves around the World

The street sweeper just passed, sucking up the leaves that have fallen so far. At the same moment, the CBC program Dispatches had Burkhard Bilger talking about the need for clean stoves in the developing world. His article in The New Yorker last winter raised a lot of questions about the search for a stove that will not only cook food where fuel is scarce, but do it in a non-polluting way.

Taken together, the incidents mark a big change in attitudes toward burning things. When I was a child eons ago, burning leaves in the fall was accepted, as was the burning of wheat stubble in open fields. Now you'd get fined if you tried either in most parts of North America, which is a small step forward.

One of my strongest first impressions if East Africa, on the other hand, was landing in Nairobi about this time of year and being greeted by wood smoke hanging heavily in the air. I asked the taxi driver on my way into the city from the airport if there were wild fires--it was the end of the dry season--but he seemed not to understand what I meant. Later I realized that in many places wood is used for cooking and fields are still set afire before planting, with consequences which can be bad for both the overall greenhouse gas situation, and for the health of the people immediately around.

You can't ask people to stop cooking their food, though. Hence the importance of low-pollution, highly efficient stoves. What about putting a surcharge on all sales of SUVs and light trucks with the money collected to go toward providing that kind of stove to everyone all over the world.

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