With so much of the discussion about global warming focused on sophisticated climate models, radiant forces, and the merits of the science (and yes, the science has merit), it’s easy to not see the forest for the trees — or lack thereof. A lot of the problems and solutions associated with greenhouse gas emissions come down to common sense.
You wouldn’t sit in a closed garage with your car running, so it makes sense that designing cars to burn less gas is a good thing. The same is true of electricity : Coal is a major source of electrical power, but burning it is nasty– a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and airborne toxins, not to mention CO2. So using less power and converting to cleaner energy sources also seems like an obvious choice.
The logic of these common sense approaches is often even more apparent in the developing world. As an example, in Cambodia, over 80% of households use firewood and charcoal for cooking, in a country with one of the worst rates of deforestation in the world. Charcoal and wood create lots of smoke, so burning less is a practical goal on multiple levels. But there’s a key difference: While we ‘Westerners’ can choose to buy a hybrid, take public transportation, and buy CFLs, better choices are not always readily available in the developing world, due to cost and accessibility issues.
Fortunately, NGOs are now stepping in to offer better options, using the money from the carbon offsets that these carbon-reducing life-improving projects generate to help fund them. In Cambodia, this means replacing the traditional bucket stove – basically a clay cooking pot – with a bucket stove that has draft holes and insulation, creating more efficient heat transfer. The result? For $3, a Cambodian family can switch to an improved bucket stove that consumes 25% less charcoal. Over 800,000 of these stoves are now in use, reducing fuel consumption by more than 150,000 tons of charcoal per year.
This idea is referred to as “carbon finance for development”, and a consortium of NGOs called NEXUS is sharing best practices and developing projects like this across Asia. Similar efforts are also underway in Africa, replacing kerosene lanterns, inefficient cookstoves, and firewood water heating with solar and other cleaner methods.
Over 2 Billion people rely on basic biomass (primarily firewood and charcoal) for cooking and heating, creating health issues (mostly to women and children), environmental degradation, and in some cases the need to spend much of each day gathering fuel. Most of these 2 Billion people don’t have access to electricity at all.
If instead of focusing on emissions allowances and industrial caps, we think of the simpler projects such as clean cookstoves and solar lights, then the idea of investing in reduction, offsets, and fuel conservation seems to make even more sense. The underlying concepts are not complicated, even if we try to make them so. Something as simple as putting some holes in a bucket can help improve our world.
Note: You can learn more about the Cambodian efficient cookstove project here.
Photo provided under license to ClimatePath from GERES. All rights reserved.