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What Does Cooking Have to Do With Earth Day? Everything.

April 19, 2017

As a member of the BioLite community, chances are you’ve heard us say before that you’re making an impact by helping us bring energy everywhere. And we mean it – when you purchase BioLite gear, that revenue gets reinvested into the work we do to replace smoky open fires with clean cookstoves.

But what we haven’t said is why the clean cookstove movement holds so much potential, not just for the individual user, but for our planet as a whole. Each HomeStove we get into the market offsets 3.5 tons of CO2 and Black Carbon a year. To date, we’ve distributed 20,000 HomeStoves and offset 93,012 tons of CO2 and Black Carbon (that is the equivalent of taking 19,789 cars off of the road) (1). Going after the toxic Black Carbon that cooking fires emit is also one of the fastest ways to address climate change – here are three reasons why:

1. Clean Cookstoves Kick Black Carbon To The Curb, A Short Lived Climate Pollutant

By making fires burn more efficiently, clean cookstoves require less fuel and reduce overall carbon dioxide emissions – but they also reduce this other nasty emission known as Black Carbon. You know this most commonly as soot, the particulate matter that smudges on your pots and hands. Black Carbon not only gets into the lungs of users who cook with these fires every day, it also enters the atmosphere and is the second leading cause of climate change behind CO2. (2). But here’s the difference: While Carbon Dioxide can take decades to cycle out of the atmosphere, Black Carbon can cycle out in as little as two weeks. (3).

Short, right? And it’s a sizable quantity, too – Black Carbon emissions from open fires currently total more output than all the cars and trucks in the world, combined. This is a real opportunity to curb a climate pollutant where we could see effects in weeks, not years.

Speaking of short, here’s a 60 second video that explains soot and our mission to get rid of it:

2. In The Scheme of Things, Clean Cookstoves are an Inexpensive Intervention

As the global community explores various solutions to tackling climate change, they all come with price tags and various barriers to adoption. Want to replace every single car on the road with a hybrid? That’s going to require huge personal investments from people and ask them to modify their behavior where the immediate benefit may not be clear.

To bring this to life a bit, let's do some quick math: Imagine you bought a Toyota Prius Hybrid instead of a Honda Civic – you're going to end up paying about $6000 more for that model and while you may see some fuel savings, the day to day driving experience will be fairly similar. But! It's a hybrid, so you're also offsetting 2 tons of CO2/Black Carbon per year. Let's say you drive that car around for 10 years; that means, over the course of that car's life, you offset 20 tons of carbon-related emissions and paid $6000 to have a car that could do that. $6000/20 = $300 per ton of carbon offset. Pretty expensive.

Now, let's take a look at the BioLite HomeStove: This stove offsets 3.5 tons of CO2/Black Carbon annually and costs around $75 in total. Plus, unlike a Prius vs. Civic where the day to day experience is pretty similar, replacing an open cooking fire with a HomeStove is dramatically different; the home isn't pluming with smoke, eyes don't water, and the family has access to electricity. Over the course of that stove's life, say around 5 years, a user will offset 17.5 tons of carbon-related emissions at just over $4 per ton. So, compared to cars, a frequent topic of emission reductions, clean cookstoves have the potential to reduce more carbon out of the atmosphere and at a cheaper cost with significant quality of life improvement. That math looks pretty solid to us.

(By the way, if you really want to dig into this, check out McKinsey’s Cost Curve for Greenhouse Gas Reduction.)

3. This is a Movement Driven By People and Doesn't Have to Wait on Policymakers

We’re all reading the articles about conferences and government commitments on climate policy and it can often feel like we’re waiting for these governing bodies to dictate what happens next. With clean cookstoves, we’re not waiting – we’re doing.

By adopting a grassroots distribution network and business model that enables our outdoor customers to invest in our work, we are able to be agile and responsive rather than bogged down by red tape or protracted processes. When it comes to cleaning up cooking fires, individual actions can make a big difference.  

The benefits of distributing clean cookstoves spread far beyond combating climate change. By expanding clean energy access to off-grid families we can improve public health, enable communication and education, generate income, and reduce inequality. Cleaning up cooking fires has a ripple effect of positive outcomes for families.

So now you’ve got a better sense of not just what we do, but why we do it and why we see it has so much potential to make an impact now.

Fired up? So are we.

Earth Day Ask: Spread The Movement

The clean cookstove movement is still under or off the radar for a lot of people. There’s no celebrity making the rounds, no concerts or walkathons happening for it – so we need our community to help spread the word.

This Saturday is Earth Day. Help us get the word out about the power of clean cookstoves by doing one of the actions below:

  1. Share our video about soot on Facebook.
  2. Active on Twitter? Tweet a stat about cookstoves and carbon. Here are a few:
    1. World leaders should redouble efforts to cut soot emissions - its the cheapest fastest way to combat climate change: http://bit.ly/2ildyEw
    2. CO2 can take a century. Soot can take a week. Learn more about how we can #GetSootDone and curb climate change: http://bit.ly/2oPckXO
  3. Attending a march this weekend? Whenever there’s a standstill, consider asking your marching neighbors if they know about Black Carbon or about clean cookstoves. The power of conversation goes a long way.

Sources: 1. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle (EPA). 2. Black Carbon and other Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (Gold Standard). 3. Clean Cookstoves & The Environment (Global Alliance for Clean CookStoves). 


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