8. The Mewar Angithi

Figure 3. Using Mewar Angithi.jpg
Good judgement comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgement
— Mullah Nasruddin

I have spent the last eight years working with indigenous communities in India on our global environmental crises. These communities experience climate change, biodiversity loss, desertification and toxic pollution first-hand and they have been among my best teachers. During my interactions with them, I have been amazed at the depth and breadth of knowledge that they possess on the biodiversity in their forest habitats. It is my dearest wish to make their life easier so that they can continue to stay in their forest homes, if they so choose. In the Caterpillar culture, such indigenous communities are being forced to move into cities to seek employment as bricklayers or manual laborers as their forest homes get destroyed. Instead, we would all be much better off if these communities can stay in their forest homes and help pilot the re-wilding of the planet in the Half-Earth solution!

Their forest homes are dying mainly because of livestock production and fuelwood extraction. Livestock production can only be addressed as the demand for livestock products subsides, but that requires behavioral changes among the affluent communities of the world. Fuelwood extraction, on the other hand, is a local issue as far as these communities are concerned. Fuelwood burning is the second most significant quantitative reason for deforestation worldwide, behind only livestock production[1]. The soot from incomplete combustion of fuelwood is also a potent greenhouse gas. As it gets deposited on the ice in the Arctic or in the Himalayas through wind currents in the Northern hemisphere, the black soot absorbs solar energy whereas the original ice would have reflected it. As a result, the Arctic region and the Himalayan third pole are heating up faster than almost every other part of the Earth due to climate change. Since the industrial chemicals that we have emitted into the atmosphere come down in the rain, get absorbed by trees and get embedded in the trunks and branches of trees worldwide, fuelwood smoke has also become a potent human health hazard, contributing to a loss of as much as eight years in life span for the women who cook with wood[2]. That is the level of lifespan reduction that can be expected from smoking the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes each day!

Much effort has been expended over the past four decades to mitigate the effects of fuelwood use among the nearly 3 billion people in the global South who still depend on biomass for their energy needs, mostly for cooking. But almost all of these efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC) has an ambitious plan to deploy 100 million High Efficiency Cookstoves (HECs) by the year 2020, but the plan has not yet been put into action due to technological and process hurdles. The Government of India has been trying to deploy HECs in the rural areas of India for the past two decades, but this intervention has been largely unsuccessful as well. At Climate Healers, we tried deploying solar cookstoves in the villages of Rajasthan and Orissa in 2010 and this was also unsuccessful[3]. Since then, we have been working with universities worldwide and mainly with Prof. Uday Kumar's team at the University of Iowa[4] and Prof. Bruce Litchfield’s team at the University of Illinois[5] on stored energy solar cook stoves that can address the primary reasons for our unsuccessful deployment in 2010. But progress on these projects has been slow due to technical difficulties under our low-cost constraint. Meanwhile, the carbon offset mechanisms that Climate Healers planned to use for funding the deployment of these stored energy solar cookstoves have become mired in controversy and are largely defunct. Therefore, as of late 2014, we were open to consider a new course to get over these considerable procedural and technological hurdles.

[1]  Kaimowitz, D. “What Causes Tropical Deforestation?,” Forestry Chronicle 78(3), 359–359 (2002).

[2]  Grieshop, A.P., et al. “Health and Climate Benefits of Cookstove Replacement Options,” Energy Policy 39(12), 7530–7542 (2011)

[3]  http://www.climatehealers.org/solar-cook-stoves/

[4] http://bit.ly/25eVkub

[5] http://bit.ly/1XoRgl9