Clean Cookstoves Can Slow Climate Change
It's easy to think of the energy shortage in the developing world as being all about finding ways to generate electricity from the sun and wind to power the 81 percent of African rural areas that still are off the grid.
But in places where people are accustomed to living without electric lights, appliances and electronic gadgetry, a 2011 World Bank report says that the main energy source is biomass — small stoves fueled with wood or charcoal, which supply heat for warmth, cooking, boiling water and other activities of daily life.
In many developing countries, gathering wood and selling it is one of the major industries, providing jobs. The charcoal-producing industry in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is projected to employ 12 million people by 2030.
There's a major downside to the reliance upon wood stoves. The cheap, antiquated stoves used by rural dwellers in Africa and elsewhere aren't very efficient, and they spew smoke that contains black carbon, consisting of tiny particles that are only partially burned. It's the same stuff that's found in fireplace soot, and it's a serious health risk to the people who breath it in.
Beyond that, black carbon gets into the atmosphere where it's many times more potent than more plentiful carbon dioxide. Black carbon is a significant contributor to the greenhouse effect that's altering our planet's climate.
“It absorbs sunlight so much more strongly than any other type of pollution,” explained Christopher Cappa, a University of California, Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering.
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