Cookstove Inserts: Mitigating Climate Change, Deforestation, and Respiratory Problems

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By: Kaley Beins
As President Obama said in Paris during this past week’s United Nations Climate Summit, “Let’s show businesses and investors that the global economy is on a firm path towards a low carbon future.” Extensive scientific research has demonstrated the serious threat that climate change poses to the environment and humanity.  Now governments are pushing for economic change in order to stimulate the mitigation of climate change.
But what about those without the economic power to influence such large scale decisions?
Almost 40% of the world’s population uses firewood as their primary source of energy for cooking and heating. This use of wood and other biofuels has led to widespread deforestation, especially around low wealth communities. Additionally, the smoke from the combustion of biofuels releases black carbon into the atmosphere, which can settle on glaciers and expedite ice melt. Black carbon has also been linked to respiratory problems. However, a new report from researchers at the University of Iowa found that a cheap metal stove insert can both increase the efficiency of cookstoves and reduce the amount of smoke released when burning wood.
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Figure 1 from the study; demonstrates how to construct the cookstove insert

Although numerous nonprofits have created high efficiency cookstoves (HECs) to mitigate deforestation and climate change, HECs are often expensive or ineffective, and few communities use them. Conversely, the small insert is made of scrap metal, costing less than $1 USD to produce, and does not require significant changes in cooking traditions. Furthermore, the preliminary study shows that the inserts decrease both the amount of fuel needed for each fire and the amount of black carbon produced by the fire; one small cookstove insert simultaneously mitigates deforestation, climate change, and human respiratory problems.
In light of last week’s adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement the timing is perfect for global communities to work to implement practical and feasible ways of mitigating climate change. Luckily innovations like the cookstove insert may also directly improve human health. The world continues to attempt to address the climate crisis and in doing so is beginning to realize the necessity of accounting for the vast range of human experiences. Whether it’s a company investing in renewable energy or a mother of four using a cookstove insert, a range of solutions will allow the world to keep its promise to “acknowledge that climate change is a common concern of humankind” and “accelerate the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

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