Cleaner Stoves Good for Lungs and Glaciers

In today’s New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal highlights an intervention that can slow global warming while improving people’s respiratory health: cleaner-burning stoves. Primitive cooking stoves emit black carbon (or soot), which researchers now estimate is responsible for 18% of global warming. How does it work? Rosenthal explains:

Like tiny heat-absorbing black sweaters, soot particles warm the air and melt the ice by absorbing the sun’s heat when they settle on glaciers.

These black airborne particles aren’t good for the lungs of those who breathe them in, either. In fact, the World Health Organization reports that cooking with wood, dung, coal, and other solid fuels is a major risk for pneumonia and chronic respiratory disease and leads to 1.5 million deaths annually (most of them in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa).

Replacing soot-belching stoves with cleaner models would be a simple way to improve users’ health and quality of life while slowing global warming — but only if people liked the new stoves. Rosenthal points out that traditional stoves’ open fires lend flavor to foods, and fragile models won’t last. New stoves will have to be as cheap or cheaper than the ones currently in use and easy to operate. People need to be excited about getting new stoves and use them continuously over time. Like any public health intervention, stove switching has to be sustainable.

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