My Dad sent me this article from the NYT. I found it interesting and applicable to my situation here so I thought I’d respond.
I’ll do a quick summary of the article. Soot from wood-burning stoves is the second-leading cause of climate change behind carbon dioxide emissions. The article claims that CO2 is responsible for 40% of climate change while soot is responsible for 18%. The article goes onto say that, “In fact, reducing black carbon is one of a number of relatively quick and simple climate fixes using existing technologies — often called “low hanging fruit” — that scientists say should be plucked immediately to avert the worst projected consequences of global warming.”
People in my village burn wood for a variety of purposes. In the winter, wood burning stoves heat houses. Throughout the year, they are used as the primary stove in the house. And people have bread ovens that burn wood to heat the oven.
As the article notes, in addition to being a cause of climate change, burning wood for heat in the home is a cause of respiratory illness. The article has a picture of an open fire that a woman is cooking over. Fortunately, stoves in my village are contained fires, which mitigates slightly the impact on the respiratory system. Nonetheless, it’s a problem. Another negative impact of wood burning stoves is deforestation.
So what to do?
Although the conclusion of the article talks about some cultural barriers to converting stoves, it seems to me that the thrust of the argument is: getting people off of wood-burning stoves is a relatively easy way of reducing climate change. It seems that their argument is that the cost of these conversions is low compared with reducing carbon dioxide emissions in more developed parts of the world.
While the actual cost of switching a stove may be low, the article misses a huge point. It dramatically underestimates the amount of human capital necessary to convince people to make conversions. Getting people to switch stoves in my 400-person village would be a huge accomplishment. Although it is a goal for my service, I don’t think that it will happen. The available alternatives all have significant obstacles that prevent them from being viable. Natural gas is too expensive. Solar cookers are too slow and wouldn’t cook food in a way that people are used to. But the biggest obstacle is that people are relatively satisfied with wood stoves and not concerned with preventing climate change.
If, after two years, I can’t make an impact in this arena in a village of 400, what hope do we have of convincing hundreds of millions of people all across the globe? This is NOT “low-hanging fruit.” It’s a cause worth fighting for, but it will not be easy. The climate change argument is not a reasonable one to make with people who are living day to day. In my village, the issue of deforestation is more pressing to people and that’s the argument that I make here. If converting stoves worldwide is a goal, than each individual community may need an argument that is specific for their situation in order to convince them. Furthermore, different cultures will need an individualized stove that suits their needs. As I said above, this will require large amounts of community-level development work in order to tackle appropriately.
All is well. I have gotten the money for my running water project and will be presenting the project to an auction of potential contractors on Monday. Hoping to have that project running smoothly by the time I leave for America. It’s very exciting.
I hope all is well. Looking forward to coming home.