Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

4 Million People Die Each Year Inhaling Black Carbon

Climate
4 Million People Die Each Year Inhaling Black Carbon

One of global warming’s biggest culprits is lurking in the most unlikely of places. Black carbon from household stoves is fueling climate change and degrading public health and the issue has spurred a wave of investment in novel alternatives to solid fuel cookstoves.

Millions of women in developing countries cook on stoves heated by burning wood, charcoal, crops and dung. Soot from these stoves collects in homes and in the atmosphere as black carbon, a potent greenhouse gas second only to CO2 in its ability to trap heat. But unlike CO2, which is harmless if inhaled, black carbon contains carcinogens that can enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on vital organs.

Smoke from cookstoves claims roughly 4 million lives each year, more than malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Women and children stand at greatest risk. Photo credit: Pixbay

“Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour,” Kirk Smith, professor of environmental health at UC Berkeley told the World Health Organization. Smoke from cookstoves claims roughly 4 million lives each year, more than malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis combined. Women and children stand at greatest risk.

So pernicious are black carbon’s effects that Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Capitol Hill’s most outspoken climate change doubter, supported a bill to investigate its dangers. Inhofe told the The Guardian he was concerned about the spread of lung disease in Africa, where so many families cook on wood stoves.

Inhofe’s political rivals have proved just as determined to eliminate indoor pollution from burning wood and coal. In 2010, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton announced an public-private partnership to provide clean-burning stoves to families in Africa, Asia and South America. As of October, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves had delivered 28 million stoves, a milestone on its way to its goal of 100 million stoves by 2020.

The alliance counts oil giant Shell among its key partners. To critics, Shell’s participation may look like greenwashing, a way for the fossil fuel titan to invest in clean energy without undercutting its oil business—see its sponsored article in Wired magazine or its TV commercial. But the company has contributed to grants for numerous game-changing ventures, like BioLite, a U.S. startup producing clean-burning stoves.

BioLite developed a cookstove with an attached thermo-electric generator that uses heat produced by burning wood to generate electricity. The generator powers a fan that draws oxygen into the burner, feeding the fire while eliminating smoke. The result is a cleaner, more efficient stove.

According to BioLite, the HomeStove requires roughly half the fuel of an open fire and produces 90 percent less carbon pollution. And, the extra energy produced can be used charge a cell phone or power an LED light.

Some contributions to the genre of clean cookstoves have proved less elegant. Last week, (B)energy, a German social business venture, put forward its latest design—an enormous inflatable bag that can be filled with methane from decomposing organic matter—food, manure, even human waste. Once filled, the bag can be transported on one’s back and connected to a stove to provide fuel.

Jonathan Cedar, one of BioLite’s founders, believes cleaner-burning stoves could be the next penicillin, saving millions of lives at a negligible cost. Their impact on climate change could be even bigger. Solid fuel stoves account for 25 percent of black carbon emissions globally. Unlike carbon dioxide, which can linger in the atmosphere for centuries, black carbon remains for just days or weeks, meaning cutting pollution from cookstoves would pay off quickly.

According to BioLite, the HomeStove requires roughly half the fuel of an open fire and produces 90 percent less carbon pollution. And, the extra energy produced can be used charge a cell phone or power an LED light. Photo credit: BioLite

“Reductions in short-lived climate pollutants cannot be made in isolation from efforts to reduce other greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide,” said Sameer Akbar, a senior environmental specialist at the World Bank. “But black carbon and methane reductions can slow the warming impact in the near-term. That would buy us some much-needed time to address carbon dioxide emissions and to help communities adapt to the changing climate.”

As far as global warming goes, clean-burning cookstoves are low-hanging fruit. They are cheap, unobjectionable and able to produce immediate benefits for the climate and for human health. The challenge now is getting people to change the way they cook.

Jeremy Deaton writes about the science, policy and politics of climate and energy for Nexus Media. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Online Database Tells You if the Cleaning Products You Bring in Your Home Are Toxic

7-Year-Old Files Climate Change Lawsuit with the Supreme Court of Pakistan

Can Cuba Supply America’s Growing Appetite for Organic Food?

10 Inspiring Films on Food + Farming: Who Do You Think Should Win the People’s Choice Award?

In an ad released by Republican Voters Against Trump, former coronavirus task force member Olivia Troye roasted the president for his response. Republican Voters Against Trump / YouTube

Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less
Monarch butterflies in Mexico's Oyamel forest in Michoacan, Mexico after migrating from Canada. Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

By D. André Green II

One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.

Read More Show Less
The 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on Sept. 17 introduced ten new Ig Nobel Prize winners, each intended to make people "laugh then think." Improbable Research / YouTube

The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch