Day 17 – Helter-Skelter

Many moons ago we bought a pop-up camper, and many fun family trips ensued. We got a Suburban to help pull it, and to fit all of our camping accoutrement. At the time gas cost just over a dollar a gallon, so it’s thirsty habits were not much of a concern. Well, we all remember what happened after that, don’t we! Forget long trips, we even had to sell the camper. These days the price of gas has gone down a lot; I’m sure when the gas company realizes it has an overdue book from the library we will be thrust back to 2008.

But what if you spent 30% of your daily budget on fuel, where would that leave you? What if you invested your meager savings in a convenient and clean propane stove, only to find that the cost of cooking breakfast doubled overnight?

The debate rages on about what form clean cooking should take, but a definitive answer is elusive. Some regions have an abundance of solid fuel, and some have zero. Some countries are net exporters of petroleum products like propane, while most are not. Governments may subsidize propane or kerosene, but global price fluctuations still affect local markets, and government agendas change.

Courtesy of Max Roser, ourworldindata.org

Here we have a graphic representation of the energy ladder. Developed nations reside on it’s upper rungs, while our Cooks hang out on it’s lower rungs. In an ideal world people would only move up the ladder, but it seems that our world is less than ideal at times. When you live at (or near) the $2/day poverty line, even small changes in prices can affect your daily living in large ways. You may not have read about it, but the rise of ethanol production in the US a decade ago helped contribute to a corn crisis in Mexico, where corn tortillas make up a large (and healthy) part of the daily diet. Events such as these always hit the poorest people the hardest, as they have no discretionary income to soak up the difference.

Fuel is no different, and no matter where our Cook finds herself on the energy ladder she may slide a few rungs lower when oil prices rise, the local economy slips, or a family member gets sick or loses a job. Global projections show little change in solid fuel use at these levels over the next few decades, so it seems there will be plenty of Cooks out there using solid fuel well into the future.

Providing clean cooking technology doesn’t just help alleviate health issues, it provides a buffer against the vagaries of fuel prices and economies. Maybe someone will find a way to sell sunlight one day, but until then it’s free for all to use, regardless of their economic level. Solid fuels reside at the bottom of the ladder, there isn’t any lower level to drop to, so providing technology that makes the most of this energy source also keeps our cook’s scarce funds at home instead of in fuel vendors pockets.

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We know those who quite enjoy getting stuck in a cycle. People, on the other hand, tend not to like it so much. We need to help get Cook out of this poverty cycle, to give her a buffer against the world. By introducing solar ovens, improved cookstoves, and associated technology we can help our Cook break this cycle, and lead a healthier life to boot.

For more on energy use as it relates to clean cookstoves, here’s an article from the New York Times.

The Challenges of Cleaning Up Cooking – NYT

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