The Benefits of Cleaner Cookstoves for Climate and Human Health

by Natalie Knops

Widespread use of traditional wood and coal-burning cookstoves has resulted in a significant source of anthropogenic emissions. Reductions in these emissions could be deeply beneficial to impact climate change and public health. It is estimated that cleaner technology to replace traditional wood and coal-burning stoves could decrease the global temperature by nearly a tenth of a degree and save more than 10 million lives by 2050 (Pidcock, 2017). Exposure to household air pollution is responsible for an overwhelming number of preventable illnesses and deaths. It is estimated that exposure to cooking smoke in poorly ventilated homes is the cause of 370,000 to 500,000 premature adult deaths per year. Cooking smoke is a source of risk for burns, eye and respiratory diseases. Traditional cooking methods use solid fuels such as wood, animal dung, coal and biomass as fuel for an open fire. Methods like these release methane and carbon dioxide. Emissions from wood-fuels alone are approximated at 2% of global emissions (Robert Bailis, 2014).When wood and coal are burnt, aerosols are released along with greenhouse gases—the climate effect of these aerosols being strongly regional. Cooking fires are a primary source of black carbon soot. This black soot can be carried as far as the Arctic atmosphere, bringing about ice and permafrost melt (What is Black Carbon?, 2010).

In an effort to phase out traditional wood and coal-burning cookstoves, many non-profit organizations are promoting the use of solar cookers. Solar cookers are relatively inexpensive, low-tech devices that use the energy of direct sunlight to heat and cook. The solar cookers concentrate sunlight and convert the light to heat. Solar cookers with heat retaining capabilities, such as absorber plates, combat the disadvantages of a strictly sunlight-dependent cooker. The use of solar cookers helps reduce fuel costs, air pollution, and slows down the deforestation caused by gathering firewood. One optimistic estimate cites a potential 36% reduction of fuelwood use due to solar cookers. If it is assumed that there are 1.5 million people operating solar cookers on a global scale and that each one cooks an average 1 meal per day for 3 people, the resulting emission reduction is approximately 690 million kilograms of carbon dioxide per year (using the equivalent of carbon dioxide emissions of 565 grams per kilogram of wood burned) (Solar Cookers). Efficient solar cookers are cost effective devices that are co-beneficial in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and improving public health.

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