The Energy Poor

An organization called The Charcoal Project is addressing a concern that’s been largely overlooked amid worldwide enthusiasm over clean energy: the more than two billion “energy poor” people around the world who depend on wood, charcoal, dung or agricultural residues as primary fuel sources for heating and cooking, at great personal health and environmental cost. Using charcoal and wood for heat carries enormous consequences: in enclosed structures, it’s a major pollutant that leads to childhood illness—such as pulmonary diseases—and death. The World Health Organization estimates that “Exposure to indoor air pollution may be responsible for nearly 2 million excess deaths in developing countries and for some 4% of the global burden of disease.”

These dirty sources of fuel carry a devastating environmental consequence, too: black carbon. Black carbon—which comes from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass, including diesel emissions, cook stoves, wood burning and forest fires—has become one of the most concerning climate change drivers. But unlike carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for several decades, black carbon is in the atmosphere for just a few weeks at a time. Meaning any on-the-ground reductions would result in immediate benefits in slowing global warming—with impacts likely to be particularly significant in the Arctic.

The Charcoal Project tackles these major world concerns with a simple solution: to increase the use of energy-efficient stoves, kilns and sustainable fuels for the world’s energy poor. As of last January, the organization was in the process of securing its nonprofit status and moving toward becoming a leading facilitator for clean energy accessibility worldwide. As Drew Corbyn wrote in The Guardian following the U.N. climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico: “It’s clear that for people living in poverty, energy access is absolutely essential for a better life. The services provided by energy are needed in so many ways: cooking meals, lighting, refrigeration of food and medical supplies, and for earning a living – the list goes on. And yet, too few leaders and decision-makers are concerned enough to act on the issue.”

SOURCES: The Charcoal Project; The Guardian; Pew Center on Global Climate Change; World Health Organization