I was, therefore, appreciative of the efforts to design and provide cleaner stoves--particularly the local angle:
It was thus with a gladdened heart and local pride that I read, after returning home, the essay in The New Yorker magazine, which also was referred to in a recent editorial in this newspaper. The article featured the Aprovecho Research Center, right here in Oregon, which has won international recognition for its efforts to design better stoves that also would be inexpensive.
It has been almost a year since then, and I am happy to read in the news that the US government is taking this project to a higher level:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced today the formation of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a more than $60 million dollar public-private partnership to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions.
A neat correlation that does not turn into any causation linking my column and this news :) Anyway, my first thought was this: if 60 million dollars are all that was needed to get this going, we waited this long? Well, better late than never, I suppose.
So, what is this Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves? It is:
a new public-private initiative to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The Alliance’s ‘100 by 20’ goal calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020, toward a long-term vision of universal adoption of clean and efficient cooking solutions.
How will this be done?
To achieve its ‘100 by 20’ goal, the Alliance will establish industry standards; spur innovative financing mechanisms; champion the cause across the donor and development communities; develop indoor air quality guidelines; address global tax and tariff barriers; field test clean stoves and fuels; and develop research roadmaps across key sectors such as health, climate, technology and fuels.
Sounds great. But, I wonder if this is slightly more than a much narrower focus I would prefer. I hope that in this process, we will not repeat the same errors that are typified by the classic experience that John Kenneth Galbraith's wife talked about when she lived in India during Galbraith's service there as the US ambassador. Mrs. Galbraith noticed how much the maids had to bend to sweep and mop the floor. So, to make their lives better, and to improve productivity, she gave them the long-handled brooms and mops that we are so familiar with here in America.
Good idea, right? Yes, the maids did use them--but, after cutting the handles off first.
It is for those kinds of reasons that I am hoping that the Alliance will also focus on massive education and marketing of both the need and the technology. It is a similar theme expressed at Aidwatch on what will be needed to make this a true success:
If this new effort is going to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors, it needs to do a few vital things:
- It needs to get as much input as possible from the people who will actually use the stoves. The stoves will need to be as much like existing stoves as possible, to minimize the change in cooking style required to use them. In particular, women need to be able to cook traditional foods that are appealing to their families. Listening to the women who’ll cook on them is the best way to do that.
- It needs to produce affordable stoves and consistently distribute them. Price is a big barrier to use of better cookstoves, since the benefits aren’t immediately obvious. The stoves need to be cheap enough that families can buy them with a minimum of savings or debt. Since they won’t last forever, there needs to be a steady supply of available improved stoves. That means building a structure for production and distribution, not some kind of one-off stove airlift.
- Finally, it will need to market the stoves intensely. Since the benefits to getting a new stove are obvious, and the problems aren’t, they’ll need to really sell these stoves. Women, and their families, will need to be convinced of the benefits. That will require a lot more than a dry brochure or an earnest slogan. It will need actual ads, with an advertising strategy behind them.
So, do your part to cheer this Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves on. And, if you have a few dollars to spare, perhaps donate to this venture?