This Labor Day, families across the nation will light up the charcoal pit, wheel out the beer cooler, and enjoy the novelty of cooking on an open flame. But for 3 billion people around the world, cooking on a fire pit or basic biomass or coal stove is a daily – if not 3-times a day – chore. It’s a serious environmental and health issue quite often overlooked in favour of more glamorous disasters.
Imagine the black smoke from your barbecue pit. No big deal in a typical suburban neighborhood. Now imagine a crowded city where nearly every household emits black smoke, everyday, all year. The CO2 emissions from biomass and coal stoves has been directly linked to regional and global pollution and climate change. Particularly black carbon. If you’re not familiar, black carbon is the result of incomplete combustion – think soot. When suspended in the atmosphere, it absorbs sunlight and increases the atmospheric temperature. It also increases snow and ice melt when deposited onto glaciers or ice fields.
Whether it’s a wood or coal stove, the production of either leads to deforestation, habitat loss, and water pollution. With a growing global population, the need for stove fuel will only increase.
According the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, “Chronic exposure to smoke from traditional cooking practices is one of the world’s biggest – but least well-known – killers.” Exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves causes an estimated 4 million premature deaths each year, as well as cancer, severe respiratory problems, and low birthweight in children. Women and children are the most commonly affected as they spend the most time around the stove.
Why is so little attention given to what is obviously a very big problem? My hunch is that while the problem is so big and not endemic to any one region, the solution must be specialized and specific to each region. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves brings together researchers and manufacturers who are developing alternative stove solutions – whether its solar, advanced biomass, or alcohol stoves.
Of course, the biggest factor in finding solutions could be as simple as raising awareness. The more attention it receives the more funding that can be put toward research and development. Check out the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves for more information.