We’ve heard in the news about all the different things that people die from in Africa; malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, diarrhea. But did you know that smoke pollution from traditional cooking methods is one of the biggest causes of preventable death in Congo? Since only about 11% of the country has access to electricity, and even less have it in their homes, nearly all people in Congo (93%) cook using solid fuel like wood or charcoal on a cook stove or open fire. Traditional cook stoves are incredibly inefficient, resulting in excessive smoke pollution, along with the need to continually find fuel. Much of Congo’s trees have been cut down for cooking fuel, and areas that were once lush jungles are now barren fields. Cooking usually happens inside the home, so these stoves fill the home with pollutants. Children and women end up the primary victims of household air pollution.
That’s where clean cook stoves come in. (And carbon credits.) The stove in the picture was developed by Burn Design Lab. While I was in Kinshasa I ate a meal prepared on this stove. A person (I can’t remember his name) staying at the same guest house I was at brought this prototype to test. Burn Design Lab and other clean stove designers have developed simple, inexpensive stoves for people that rely on traditional fires for cooking. These stoves dramatically reduce the amount of pollution children are exposed to in their homes, and cut down the need to cut down trees for fuel. (You like that little “cut down-cut down” repetition there? Cute, yeah?) The biggest problem with getting people using these stoves is that no matter how cheaply they can be manufactured, they still cost money, and the average Congo income is around 72 cents a day. Enter carbon credits.
When I first heard of carbon credits I thought it was a scam created by politicians and pollution-heavy industries to try to sneak past pollution requirements. After learning about clean cook stoves in Congo, my perspective has changed. My basic understanding of carbon credits is as follows: Companies that want to (or are required to) reduce their carbon pollution have the option to either make their own pollution-generating process more efficient or invest in a project that reduces pollution somewhere else in the world. In places like the US where pollution reduction has already made significant inroads, it may be difficult or insanely expensive for a company to reduce their carbon pollution even more. Instead, that company can invest in a project that reduces carbon somewhere else, like Congo, with more efficient equipment, like cook stoves. Even though most Congolese can’t afford a new stove, companies investing in carbon credits can reduce the cost of a clean cook stove to almost zero for a consumer in Congo or anywhere else in the world where people suffer from household air pollution. I love the idea of a big company investing in projects that improve lives in the poorest areas of the world. If a company invests in a cook stove project that guarantees to place, let’s say, 100,000 stoves in households throughout Congo, that company would get credit for all the pollution it has reduced by replacing traditional stoves with clean stoves. Even if carbon credits are a bit of a scam, they’re a potential win for poor people around the world as as carbon credit investments make communities healthier.
So what does this have to do with Congolese art? Nothing really, except that Pax Gallery exists to provide great art and change lives in Congo. That means that Pax and clean cook stoves have a similar goal.