Rampant poverty that is prevalent in the third world countries deprives many people of minimally required food materials for survival at affordable cost making the life miserable for these unfortunate denizens. On top of it cooking of food presents even more acute problems of availability and cost. Now comes another challenge in the form of their precious cook stoves which are being blamed for global warming.
The on-going debate about the need to control green house gas emissions focuses too much on CO2 though there is an awareness about other contributing factors like methanogenesis and similar emissions having adverse effect on environment. Fossil fuels considered unsustainable for long have been the main villain and new developments were taking place to switch over to more sustainable energy systems based on sources like Solar, Geothermal, Wind, Waves etc. There has to be a convergence of the goals between these two laudable efforts and future is going to belong to the strategy that will ensure clean and sustainable power. The Kyoto Protocol which sets the limit for global temperature rise to 2C by the end of this century is scheduled to expire by 2012 and a successor to this treaty is being negotiated under the UN auspices. Many climate scientists believe that this planet will see a rise in temperature as much as 4-6C this century unless remedial measures are taken now.
Black Carbon (BC) is receiving increasing attention from the climatologists for its role in global warming and the major contributors are China and India accounting up to 35% of the world-wide BC emission. BC is generated as a result of incomplete combustion of carbon sources like fossil fuels, bio fuels and biomass. According to some estimates 42% of BC emission globally comes from biomass burning in the open while 18% is generated in the house-holds where bio fuels like firewood is burned to cook food and heat water. BC warms the planet by absorbing heat in the atmosphere and by reducing albedo, the ability to reflect sunlight when they settle over the ice in glaciers. Unlike CO2 emissions which can travel far and wide and stay in the atmosphere for 100 years, BC does not linger in the atmosphere for more than a few weeks. BC emanating from diesel and coal burning in many developed countries is more or less under control due to mandatory environmental restrictions on emission of particulates including BC. More than 50% of Arctic warming has been attributed to BC which can be stopped within a short time by controlling BC emissions. 75% of Himalayan glaciers are expected to lose the ice before 2020 if BC emission is not curtailed or eliminated.
A demand is now being made on the developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America to cut down on BC emissions by replacing traditional cook stoves with modern ones with better combustion efficiency and reduced emission of smoke. The logic is that there are hundreds of millions of such stoves being used in the rural areas where bio fuel is the only source of heating to cook food and their combined output of BC can be very significant. Besides the smoke has adverse effects on the health of children with ailments involving eyes, reproductive system and lungs. It is estimated than more than 1.6 million deaths occur world-wide due to toxic indoor pollution, about 6 lakh deaths reported in India alone. In most of the developing countries 50% of the energy consumed goes for cooking of foods in traditional stoves or chulhas as they are called. An an average family spends about 20% of its income on purchase of firewood or charcoal. Under such a scenario, replacement of these stoves in such large numbers is going to be an herculean task.
Modern chulhas are designed in such a way they can use powdered or briquetted bio fuels and with the aid of a small fan or natural draught provided by a chimney, combustion can be more efficient with more than 80% reduction in smoke emission. There are a number of designs and manufacturers supplying such chulhas costing from Rs 500 to Rs 2000. The National Program on Improved Chulha (INPIC) under the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) has done a yeomen service to the country as well as the world by promoting smokeless chulhas during the last several years and millions of such chulhas are claimed to have been supplied across the country's rural backyard, saving substantial quantity of fire woods. Realizing the potential benefits in replacement of traditional cook stoves for the entire world, USA is extending aid for introducing modified cook stoves, costing less than $ 20, in 20 million households in the third world countries which can achieve 90% reduction in BC emission. While controlling BC emission is a laudable objective, poor people in the third world should not be the one bearing the 'cross', considering that major culprits like some of the industrialized nations are not even signatories to the much touted Kyoto Protocol, signaling their intention not to share the sacrifice required to save this planet.