Climate Justice Through Clean Cooking: A Teen’s Perspective
Empathy is the most powerful weapon, and it creates the most forceful change.
When I first went to the “Women In Peace” panel in Washington, D.C. as a prospective Georgetown student, I did not know about some of the most pressing and remarkably unknown problems that women and girls are facing right now. It was not until I heard the CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Radha Muthiah, speak about the vulnerability of girls and women, that I realized how unsafe cooking methods are putting girls and women’s health and safety at risk.
At age six, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, a chronic and severe illness, which has no cure and no known cause, I have lost my entire large intestine and most of my childhood to this disease. Today, I am a seventeen-year-old who suffers from chronic illness, and I know how important it is to prevent them in any way possible. I have recently learned more about the widespread health challenges that young people around the world are dealing with, and I want to do my part so other people can learn about them as well.
There are so many challenges we have sought to overcome, but some of the largest underlying challenges to sustainable development and human well-being remain. One pressing example is inefficient cooking. Around three billion people rely on cooking over open fires and traditional cook stoves with highly inefficient fuels – that’s almost half the people on the planet. As a result, more than four million people die each year due to exposure to smoke from inefficient cooking. These unsafe cooking methods cause cancer, pneumonia, heart and lung disease, blindness, and burns on an unimaginably large scale. Still, this massive problem is relatively unknown, particularly to the people it is hurting the most.
I have empathy because I drive my own car to school every day, and I come home to a smokeless house stocked with food that provides an amiable learning environment. But millions of my counterparts in Africa, for example, spend up to five hours each day collecting fuel. Fellow girls that are refugees often leave their camps to collect fuel, putting them at greater risk of physical and sexual attacks, dehydration, and physical injuries. Reducing girls’ daily work load can make an incredible impact on their education and their empowerment. Instead of collecting fuel and spending time cooking for the family, they can spend time learning skills that can genuinely transform their lives.
Poor cooking methods also lead to chronic illnesses and impair well-being. Women and girls inhale smoke from cooking that directly results in deteriorating health conditions such as lung cancer, as well as a wide range of other chronic illnesses. This is especially important to me, because chronic illnesses are permanent, and it is saddening to realize that many girls are at risk of their health being sacrificed for the rest of their life. One hundred ninety five thousand burns are reported each year due to cooking. These problems could be addressed by enabling households to cook with clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels. I want to emphasize that this is all preventable. All the diseases and four million three hundred thousand painful deaths are preventable.
It’s a problem. It’s an indescribably huge problem. Looking at South Asia alone, one can notice that polluting cooking practices causes half of total black carbon emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, black carbon is dangerous because it absorbs a million times more energy than carbon dioxide. Up to twenty-five percent of black carbon emissions are caused by inefficient cooking. Imagine a girl walking home on a dirt road, after hours of gathering fuel, to a small straw hut with bundles of wood on her head. Imagine this girl and her mother preparing a traditional tortilla-like staple of India, roti, on a primitive stove. While they are cooking their family’s food, they are also being exposed to toxic smoke that is bad for their health and global air pollution levels. It does not have to be this way for millions of girls around the world.
[pullquote]There are remarkable efforts underway to address this massive, but solvable, challenge. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves continues its efforts to create a thriving market for clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels, which enable households to access and use live-saving and life-transforming solutions. The Alliance is utilizing its proven market-based approach to reach as many people as possible and ensure that progress is sustainable.
Recently in Accra, Ghana, the Alliance hosted the Clean Cooking Forum to share best practices and business models and forge new partnerships. From around the world, 500 people from 50 countries came together to strengthen the clean cooking sector so that it can reach its goals. While I did not attend in person, I followed the conference on social media and was inspired by the participation of global leaders, as well as outspoken girls from Ghana, who are dedicated to taking this issue on and making lasting change.
COP21, the twenty-first United Nations conference on climate change, has begun in Paris and will hopefully present new opportunities to prioritize clean cooking within climate change mitigation efforts. Addressing climate change is not just about rich countries cutting their emissions, it is also about low and middle income countries addressing the growing climate risks for their people and investing in sustainable paths forward. Clean cooking solutions present opportunities to make climate and health impacts at both the macro- and
How does all the issue of inefficient cooking affect us? It makes our environment less healthy. But most importantly, it alters the lives of innocent families and negatively changes bright futures of girls and their families. With empathy and the lessons we have learned from research and practice, we can address the challenge of inefficient cooking. Underprivileged people should not suffer from debilitating chronic health conditions and the impacts of climate change when the preventive tools are right in front of us.
Sneha Dave is a senior at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana, who is dedicating to improving health and well-being, particularly for young people dealing with chronic illnesses. At age 6, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which she has successfully battled with the help of several major surgeries. She founded “The Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times,” a newsletter designed to support teens with inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, she is a motivational speaker, especially at fundraising events supporting Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, where she received treatment, and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Her advocacy efforts have been broadcast on both television and radio, and she was named a 2013-14 Riley Champion by the Riley Children's Foundation. A big believer in equal opportunities for children and teens with chronic illnesses, she is working with Riley Children's Foundation to design a leadership development conference to benefit those youth.