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How cooking endangers planet and people



Almost half of the world’s population still uses open fires to cook their food risking a number of diseases because of their exposure to air pollution, explains Nathalia Hentze Nielsen, communications manager for Dazin.

Can you remember the last time you cooked a meal over open fire? I am going to take a guess and say it was while camping. You might even know how to start a campfire yourself if you were once a boy or girl scout. I remember the last time I sat in front of the crackling red flames and watched the smoke rise into the night sky. My high school class and I were on a fieldtrip and spent the night making twist bread and s’mores. The very next day we were back to the luxurious ways of modern lifestyle: Indoors induction cooktops and exhaust hoods.

While my classmates and I only had to inhale thick smoke for one night, coughing our way through campfire songs, open fire cooking is not an occasional fun pastime nor a relic of the past for over 3 billion people. WHO describes them as “the forgotten 3 billion” – that is, nearly the half the world’s population who still cook their food on open fires using firewood, coal and animal dung as their fuel. Doing so is not harmless and I am not just talking about watery eyes and a bit of coughing. These people are being exposed to high levels of household air pollution that cause a number of diseases ranging from pneumonia to strokes and lung cancer.

Out of these 3 billion, an estimated 4.3 million die every year from diseases following household air pollution. This exceeds the number of people who die from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis – combined. Women are mostly tasked with the day to day cooking and while spending hours in front of the fires, stirring their pots and keeping a watchful eye on their children, they breathe in the toxic smoke. It is not surprising then that most of the 4.3 million deaths that happen are women and children in low- and middle-income countries.

Why is this problem not being talked about more? This time I will take a more educated guess and claim that western media has little interest in the subject because it is not happening close to home. Indeed, we can be inclined to think that “only” the 3 billion – and the 3 billion alone – are being affected. However, this is not the case. Household air pollution is not just a threat to the people in front of the fire; it affects all of us. Burning biomass on open fires releases a huge amount of carbon and black carbon, which contributes to global climate change. Furthermore, using forestry wood waste causes deforestation, soil erosion and emits 65 percent of the total black carbon in the India sub-continent, which contributes some more to global climate change (IEA, 2011).

So how do we solve such a demanding problem? Well, it is not going to happen overnight, that is for sure. It is currently 2015 and despite great technological advances, there are still millions of people living in poverty and our carbon footprint is fatter and blacker than ever. Attitudes and behavior need to change. People need to be shown solutions so they can help themselves. But most importantly right now, people need to be made aware of the problem’s existence.

Before getting involved with the non-profit organization Dazin, I had never even thought about open fire cooking being anything but a spectacle at a medieval fair or a mandatory experience during a camping trip. Needless to say, I got a rude awakening. People depend on open fires to cook their meals worldwide and the consequence for wanting to feed themselves and their families is a possible death sentence. We have been hearing a lot about proper sanitation in India due to Prime Minister Modi promising to eliminate open defecation. Now it is time to eliminate open fire cooking as well.

To put things into perspective, consider Bhutan. In the Bhutanese kingdom, located in the Himalayas, 70 percent of households use firewood and other forestry waste for cooking. They have no other reliable and affordable sources of sustainable energy. Bhutan may be small and seemingly insignificant in the larger picture but if the problem of household air pollution can be solved there, the country can be an inspiration in a worldwide energy revolution.

One very concrete solution to this fatal problem is something as simple as a stove. Smokeless stoves will not only make it safer for people to cook but also help the environment by eliminating black carbon emissions. Stoves alone are however not a long term solution. People living below poverty line are unable to cope with the high costs for maintenance and fuels. Therefore, providing an affordable and cleaner alternative to traditional fuels is crucial.

The cooperative Dazin, which I casually mentioned, provides that affordable and clean alternative. The organization is based in Bhutan and seeks to eliminate household air pollution by providing crowdsourced fuel cookies – small and dense briquettes – and smokeless stoves to rural households in Bhutan in exchange for forestry wood waste. As with all other small non-profits, Dazin is facing the issue of funding and has therefore launched a crowdfunding campaign, which I would like to encourage everyone to take a look at.

The campaign may only have the modest goal of supplying smokeless stoves to 2000 Bhutanese right now but the overall mission is ambitious: To make open fire cooking a thing of the past. That is most definitely a cause I can get behind.

Nathalia Hentze Nielsen is a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge where she earned her Master’s in Mass Communication. The twenty-three-year-old Dane is currently spending her summer volunteering as a Communication Manager for Dazin. Dazin is a cooperative based in Bhutan, which uses an inclusive approach to provide fuel cookies and smokeless stoves in order to eliminate Household Air Pollution from cooking fuel usage.

Photo: Dazin

Further reading:

Sustainable cooking enterprise seeks investment

Ashden Awards: Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise, Cambodia

Household air pollution puts one-in-three at risk of early death

Ashden Awards: Greenway Appliances, India

Poll: UK government failing to encourage circular economy


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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