Veerabhadran (Ram) Ramanathan, a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego, is looking to reduce global green house gas emissions while promoting the development of the world's poor. Ramanathan has come up with Project Surya a concept project that would address the challenge of mitigating global warming by introducing clean-cooking technology in developing nations, and scientifically evaluating the impact on global warming.
The first steps of the plan will give 3,500 "clean energy" and solar cooking devices to rural homes in the Himalayan area of Mukteshwar and document their effectiveness in reducing harmful emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon (soot). The next steps will tackle emissions from the transportation sectors. Not only do the participants get clean cooking technology, but the pilot project includes a particularly ingenious idea of monitoring pollution levels through the distribution of cell phones loaded with GPS and an accelerometer to measure both the participants daily activities and the daily air quality through a link up with special filters and a bluetooth temperature sensor installed in the kitchen area.
The Other Carbon: In addition to Carbon Dioxide, Black Carbon, or "soot", is a major contributor to global heating. Black Carbon absorbs sunlight from the atmosphere, causing warming. Unlike Carbon Dioxide, Black Carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a couple of weeks, and importantly, reducing black carbon emissions has been shown to have the immediate effect of reducing warming within weeks. It's anthropogenic sources are from agricultural burning, residential burning of biomass for cooking and heating, and the use of diesel engines for transportation and industrial use.
About half of the world's population use biomass burning (such as wood, charcoal or dung) to cook and heat their homes, which in addition to carbon emissions causes a huge global health problem: the World Health Organization estimates that indoor and outdoor air pollution from biomass burning causes more than 1.6 million deaths each year. Thus, Project Surya will be combating not only the climate issue but hopefully improving the health of millions around the world.
In the future, reducing the impact of Wood Stoves and oil stoves on global emissions of greenhouse gasses will require policy changes on the national level, including mandates, conversion projects to clean-energy cooking alternatives, new stove standards, and tax incentives, or other ways to make this technology easily accessible to some of the worlds poorest citizens. Initiatives like Project Surya will be able to create the scientific data and local proof that world governments should take immediate action on this issue.
While Project Surya is to be implemented in the Himalayas, if it is successful, hopefully it can be used as a model, and replicated in regions of China, Africa, Russia, to help millions of poor all over the world improve their technologies, their health, and their successful development. In addition to Project Surya, other groups are in the race to to innovate sustainable technologies for developing countries. Recently, students at MIT created a $17 solar cooker out of yak-wool canvas panels stretched over bamboo ribs and faced with reflective Mylar. This is one project of a joint effort founded by MIT and Wellesley students called One Earth Designs to create inexpensive technology to aid citizens in developing nations.
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