In the news: Shedding light on fire and smoke: WorldCanvass talks about a global problem

April 11th, 2017
H. S. Udaykumar, Mechanical Engineering

H. S. Udaykumar, Mechanical Engineering

By H.S. Udaykumar, Guest Opinion, Press Citizen 

When we drive home today and fire up our gas stoves and microwaves, let’s pause a moment to think of a billion women in the developing world sitting in front of their stoves, cooking meals for their families. Their stoves are totally different, though; most are three rocks placed at the apices of a triangle, or a horseshoe-shaped mud-and-brick hearth or a small metal hearth. All burn wood the women spent many hours a day to gather, trekking in extreme heat and difficult terrain. Finding energy for cooking is a big part of a woman’s day in most of the world.

Why should we care?

Two reasons.

First: This is not just “their” problem. The wood burnt in the stoves is extracted from the edges of forests, leading to their gradual degradation. Loss of parts of forests affects the micro-climate, leading to accelerated drying, changes in local rainfall patterns, soil erosion and lack of ground water retention. But it also has a global impact. Forests store carbon and play a big role in sequestering all the carbon that we throw up into the air by extracting fossil fuels like natural gas, driving our cars and running our coal mines, which provide electricity for our microwaves. And all that carbon is causing global temperatures to rise and leading to climate change. So no more forests means more carbon in the air, globally. That means us.

Second: When the women (yes, it’s mostly women who cook in the developing world) burn low-quality firewood to cook over poorly conditioned fires, soot is produced. The soot is carried into the atmosphere and transported everywhere; some of it lands on ice masses and leads to darkening of the ice. Dark ice reflects less sunlight, decreasing the “albedo” of the Earth, leading again to warming.