India Launches New Biomass Cookstove Program - Big Human Health & Global Warming Benefits

india cooking photo

photo: Vitormotomura via flickr.

If fully implemented, and done well, this next one could be a seriously big deal for improving health of rural Indians, as well as addressing climate change: Worldwatch Institute reports that India has launched a National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative. The pilot program aims to improve stove efficiency for the estimated 826 million people who use biomass for cooking. Here's why this is a big deal:1) Improved Human Health = Very Good for the Environment
As India's New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah told the Press Trust of India up to 500,000 women and children die annually due to indoor air pollution caused by breathing in smoke from biomass cookstoves.

In terms of improving health, switching to more efficient cookstoves -- which still burn biomass in the form of wood, dried cow dung, or whathaveyou, but use much less fuel and emit less fumes -- is a huge deal. Perhaps it goes without saying, but improving human health has positive ripple effects for poverty reduction, as well as economic and eco-sustainability.

It goes even so far as: If you know your children are likely to live to adulthood you probably won't have as many of them (unless your a Quiverfull-type, but that's a different situation...). And there's not an environmental problem that couldn't be ameliorated, at least somewhat, if there were less people creating it.

2) Better Cookstoves Means Less Black Carbon = Slowing Climate Change
Though improving health is the prime motivation in this program, it could also have some seriously positive climate change effects as well.

One of the major sources of black carbon -- particulate pollution that is increasingly being acknowledged as having a bigger warming impact than we previously thought -- are these cookstoves, both in India and throughout the global South. Older diesel engines and other soot-producing engines are the other major component.

This soot even has been implicated in accelerating the melting of Himalayan glaciers. When it falls on them, it coats them in a very fine layer that changes the reflectivity, speeding up the process.

The good news is that black carbon ceases to be a problem comparatively quickly if you remove the source of pollution. It doesn't hang around like CO2, methane or any of the greenhouse gases.

No Targets For Implementation, Yet
Currently there are no targets set for implementation of the program, as in Minister Abdullah's words "We don't want to set up targets right at the outset and then not be able to meet them." Rather several pilot projects are being developed to test the new stoves' performance in different parts of the country, with a variety of biomass sources and cooking styles.

Global Climate Change, Biomass Cookstoves
Black Soot Coating Himalayan Glaciers is Accelerating Melting
More Efficient Cook Stoves Could Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 18%
New Biomass Cookstoves Significantly Reduce Fuel Requirements, Indoor Air Pollution

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