Gore Requests a Bit Less Soot for the Bottom Billion

When it comes to clean technology for the developing world, something as simple as a cleaner stove could help avoid a few impending public health and ecological disasters.

Al Gore brought up threat posed by dirty wood-burning stoves at the recent Cornell Global Forum on Sustainable Enterprise.

In a panel moderated by Charlie Rose, Gore brought considerable attention to south Asia, where much of the regional water supply comes from the Himalayas. Local wood stoves emit soot which leaches into the water table and, at higher altitudes, accelerates ice melting.

"You have an incredible, looming water crisis in southern Asia," said Gore.

An April Times article documenting the problem in India described how the collecting soot, also known as black carbon, was responsible for 18 percent of global warming, only second to carbon dioxide's 40 percent. With stoves producing the bulk of black carbon in Asia and Africa, the search for the cleaner stove has begun.

The most recent innovation is the Kyoto Box, a five-dollar stove that received the $75,000 FT Climate Change Challenge Award. The two-box model is designed to capture enough solar energy to bake and boil water. Kyoto Energy, the company behind the box, has apparently received requests for trials from 20 different countries and hopes to reach 500 million households.

Another intriguing design comes from Colorado State University's Envirofit International and the Shell Group's Shell Foundation.

Last year, the partnership worked to introduce the first market-based clean-burning wood stove model to 10 million homes, beginning with India, Brazil, Kenya and Uganda. The program was inspired by the less-documented problem of indoor air pollution created by dirty stoves. According to a 2008 Times story, the World Health Organization estimated that 1.6 million people a year died from indoor toxins created by old stoves.

While other groups are working to create similar clean-burning stoves, the movement to outfit the poor with these stoves hasn't yet gained real traction. But with Gore's blessing and the work of innovators like Kyoto, the bottom billion could cook its food far more sustainably.

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