Reducing soot in the third world: the iodized salt of environmental change

Friday, April 17, 2009

First of all here's an op-ed for iodized salt from a few months ago for some background.

Also from the New York Times, there's an article out today that I completely agree with that reducing soot produced in developing countries is a really easy way to improve the environment. It's also an issue related to something I really believe environmentalists are really bad at: PR. The environmental movement seems to be really into championing issues that certainly are important, but come across as really esoteric and distant from everyday concerns. Global warming is the biggest example of this.

Here's why: PR needs to work on a number of fronts, and using the same message for everybody just doesn't work. An environmentalist or someone sympathetic to environmental causes needs to convincing to be moved to action on issues like global warming, but not everybody is as moved by this. There is, however, common ground between environmentalists and non-environmentalists on more day-to-day issues such as street pollution and health; that is, no matter how anti-tree hugger one happens to be you still don't enjoy breathing in vehicle exhaust. So there's some common ground here. Environmentalists need to reserve global warming for the choir, and change tactics to something related more to health, community and national security for the rest. A plan for example to purchase x number of plug-in hybrids by a municipality should be promoted more for its health and energy benefits, and move references to global warming to a less prominent position.

Now to the article: this is a similar issue because according to the article, CO2 emissions alone are responsible for 40% of the planet's warming wheras soot is responsible for 18%, so just under half. However, reducing soot is much easier to do, and the benefits are easier for average people to notice. Less soot = cleaner and healthier streets...and it helps fight against global warming.

How do you reduce soot? Very easy: new stoves. And the best part is:

Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.
Reducing soot then is about quickly reducing pollution in an area where change is very easy to implement, and it works as a kind of a stopgap measure to buy the world some more time to reduce emissions elsewhere.

The article also mentions a bill from last month that I don't remember reading anything about:
But in March, a bill was introduced in Congress that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to specifically regulate black carbon and direct aid to black carbon reduction projects abroad, including introducing cookstoves in 20 million homes. The new stoves cost about $20 and use solar power or are more efficient. Soot is reduced by more than 90 percent.
There seem to be some problems with the stoves looking a bit too modern, a bit too fragile. Note to the creators of the stoves: don't make them look too wussy. The point is simply to reduce soot, not to completely change the style of the appliances villages use. Nobody wants to stand out as the pansy with the shiny solar stove. A stove that looks kind of like the others but happens to be a solar stove, well that's cool. See Tesla's sedan for how you can avoid making new technology look so dorky.


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