The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science was this past week here in Vancouver. On Friday, my colleague here at UBC, Michael Brauer, and I co-organized a three hour symposium on the impacts of cooking with solid fuels, and biomass more specifically. Here is the abstract of the symposium:
Roughly 3 billion people worldwide rely on solid fuels, primarily biomass such as wood or dung for their primary cooking fuel. This has implications for human health (about 2 million attributable deaths per year, which is comparable to deaths from malaria), climate change (from combustion and land-use effects), local environmental change, and gender equity. However, there are major gaps in our knowledge of the emissions and health effects of biomass combustion, the efficacy of improved biomass stoves and fuels, the complex relationship between biomass fuels and land-use change, and the climate effects of changing cooking technologies and fuels. This issue will continue to be a major problem for the global poor in coming decades, as biomass fuel is usually more available and less expensive than alternatives. Sustainable solutions have proved elusive because of the challenges associated with diffusing energy technologies to mainly rural households. This symposium focuses on the climate and health impacts of cooking with biomass that will cover both the science and policy of this energy poverty problem. This multifaceted and complex problem encompasses domains ranging from combustion engineering and climate science to the economics of household decision-making. Experts on household energy, health, climate change, and emissions will discuss the state of knowledge in their respective fields and policy options for accelerating the move toward cleaner stoves and fuels.
The speakers were:
Kirk R. Smith, University of California, Berkeley Small, Smart, Fast, and Cheap: Monitors for Household Energy Interventions
Andrew Grieshop, North Carolina State University Clean Cookstove Emissions: How Are They Now and How Low Do They Need To Go?
Julian Marshall, University of Minnesota Verifying Health and Emission Improvements from Stove Change-Outs
Rob Bailis, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Biomass Energy, Land Cover, and Climate-Change Mitigation: How Much Do We Know?
Hisham Zerriffi, University of British Columbia Biomass-Based Cooking and the Energy Transition Process
Plus two discussants:
Jennifer Peel, Colorado State University
Ranyee Chiang, U.S. Department of Energy
The assembled group was working on various aspects of the problem and it was great to be able to chat with them informally over the couple of days we saw each other and to hear about their ongoing work. I certainly learned a few new things that I need to incorporate into my thinking on the issue.
I would have liked a larger audience (who wouldn’t). We were scheduled into a decent sized room and given a three hour slot, which I took to be an indication that the program committee thought this an important topic to cover but the room was not nearly as full as it could have been. Not that I fault the attendees at the AAAS meeting, there were lots of interesting talks to go to, but it confirms my feeling that this remains an under-reported and under-considered issue across various segments of society, including the scientific community. As part of the event we held a news briefing (decently attended) and I did some interviews (see below). When they learned the scale and scope of the problem, the universal reaction from the reporters was shock that more people, themselves included, did not know about it and that more was not being done. In fact, that was the one consistent question I got, why isn’t more being done? I wish I could answer that question. There are some major new initiatives, but as I said, more attention clearly needs to be drawn to the issue.
News Coverage: We also held a news briefing on this issue the day before the panel (webcast). Articles ran in English in The Hindu, Zee News, Truth Dive, Science a Go-Go, Environment and Energy. There was also coverage in Swedish, Spanish and Polish media. You can hear a CBC radio interview I did here: CBC Zerriffi Feb 2012. Andy did a podcast (Science Update) that can be found here. A piece also ran on The Link, a Radio Canada International Program about a week later. There may be one or more news items over the next week and I’ll post an update if those pan out.