WorldCanvass: Women’s Health and the Environment (Part 1)

WorldCanvass: Women’s Health and the Environment (Part 1)


– Hello and welcome to World Canvass from International Programs
at the University of Iowa. I’m Joan Kjaer and we’re coming to you from the recital hall in
the Voxman Music Building on the campus of the University of Iowa, thank you for joining us. Our program tonight centers
on the topic of this year’s Provost Global Forum, women’s health and the environment going up in smoke. Cooking with firewood
and other biofuels is one of the most urgent problems
in the world today. It affects the health and
well-being of those inhaling the fumes at close range,
relies on increasingly scarce sources of firewood, and contributes over 20% of global black carbon emissions. The harm to individuals and the
environment cannot be denied and yet there’s little
awareness of the issue among the general public and we hope tonight’s conversation
will help change that. My guests in this first
segment are HS Udaykumar, known as Uday, here just
next to me, he’s a professor in the University of Iowa College
of Engineering, thank you. Next to him is Sailesh Rao,
President of Climate Healers, nice to have you here. And at the far end, we
have University of Iowa student Emma Greimann, thank you, Emma. So we’re gonna be looking
at the cook stove problem through various filters
tonight, health effects, policy aspects, cultural
hurdles, and so on but I’d like to start with
a focus on how the use of cook stoves affects the environment. To me, cook stoves that
are used within the home seem at first glance to
be almost inconsequential in terms of environmental
impact when compared to major corporate polluters but Uday, that’s actually not true, is it? – It’s not true to the extent
that if you really look at what’s being used to
cook, the energy source, in the developing world, a lot
of times it’s just biomass, wood and sometimes charcoal,
and sometimes actually dried animal wastes and if
you look at what we do here, we assume that our cooking is really clean because we’re cooking with electric stove or with natural gas, which
are very clean when we are cooking with them, but if
you look at what the source of those energies are,
typically the electricity that comes to our electric stove is coming from a coal-burning power plant,
quite often, or the natural gas that we are burning burns
clean when we are cooking with it, but actually in its
extraction through the life cycle, there are lots
and lots of emissions. If you look at what the
United States is doing now we have a very abundant
natural gas economy and we think that that’s
cleaner because if we’re not burning coal in our plants, for example, to generate electricity,
but when we are extracting the natural gas, there are
lots of methane emissions and methane is a very
dangerous greenhouse gas, 30 times more dangerous
than carbon dioxide. So when you burn coal,
you emit carbon dioxide, but when you extract natural
gas, you are releasing a lot of methane into the
air, so on the hundred-year timescale methane is
30 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas, so there
are lots of these nuances that we don’t notice when we
cook that relate very closely to environmental health, in
particular to climate health. Now also of course, when
people are cooking directly with, let’s say, in a small
home without ventilation, women are usually, or at
least in the place we visit in India, and we’ve seen
some similar situations in Ghana, for example,
women are cooking in a hut with almost no opening or ventilation. And in fact in India, in
this particular village, women are in fact cooking
in a corner of the home away from the doors and so
for sociocultural reasons, for privacy and not
being viewed by menfolk and so on and so forth, so
they are cooking, in fact, at the place in the home
where it is the worst place to cook in terms of indoor air pollution. So it causes a lot of accumulation
of smoke inside the home and even if you vent it with a chimney, all that smoke is in fact going outside, so it’s not indoor air pollution anymore, it’s outdoor pollution,
and these are large numbers of people, industry does
contribute greatly to air pollution but if you look at, in India at least, the attribution of deaths
to indoor air pollution is twice that of atmospheric
or outdoor air pollution. In China, they’re sort of comparable. So the very act of cooking
actually does have a huge footprint on the planet in
terms of carbon emissions and so on and, to nuance it further, what is being emitted is not
just CO2 but also black carbon or soot and soot is taken
up into the atmosphere and then through circulation and so on, it can land up on ice masses,
and when it does that, it darkens the ice and darker
ice has a greater capacity to absorb sunlight and because
it has a greater capacity to absorb sunlight, it
traps heat on the earth, so it also acts like a heat absorber, just like greenhouse gases. So there are lots of
these many many factors that go into qualifying
cooking as an activity that on the large scale,
because there are seven billion people and three billion of
them are cooking with firewood or families are using firewood,
so you have a huge impact. It’s numbers that matter,
and there’s a double whammy because to cook, you have to cut forests, forests are our best source
of carbon sequestration, you’re removing the
ability to sequester carbon and then you’re throwing
that up in the air. So there’s a double whammy
thing going on as well. And what happens is the forests dry out, when the forests dry out,
they become more susceptible to burning and that releases
carbon in the air as well. And a lot of the carbon
is sequestered in the soil but if there is no forest,
the ability to sequester carbon in the soil also goes away. If you replace a forest with
grassland, it has much much depleted ability, diminished
ability to sequester carbon so all of these factors add up
when you talk about cooking. – So a term that people
will be learning a lot about if they come to some of
the next presentations these next two days in
the Provost Global Forum, they’ll be hearing the traditional
wood-burning cook stove and some improvements on
traditional wood-burning cook stoves that have been
developed and there’s some effort to get them out into
communities where people do cook like this and I think it would
be helpful to everybody here to just understand what a
traditional wood-burning cook stove looks like, you’ve
explained the placement and that’s really useful but
what does this thing look like? – Well in the simplest form,
it’s nothing but a campfire. So, that you cook s’mores on or whatever, so you place three
stones, rocks, like that, and this is places in Africa,
lot of places we’ve seen this, and you place three rocks
and then on top of that, you place your pot and you put
wood under it and you cook. And there are other places
where people just form this in a more permanent structure
into a horseshoe’s shape, it might be formed with stones
or brick and then some mud is placed on it to take
out all the holes and so on and smoothed out so it
kinda looks like a horseshoe and in that, you place
wood and on top of that, you place a pot, it’s
the most intuitive way in which you can construct an
ad hoc stove where you are. I mean, it’s essentially
a glorified camping fire. And that’s the bulk of, you
can see this around the world and you can see it throughout history. In India, we were visiting
a museum where they showed excavations from the past,
going back 5000 years, and one of the things that
they excavated in that place was basically a very
similar horseshoe structure so it’s lasted several thousand years and it’s the same pattern
worldwide and why is it so robust? It’s robust because it’s
the most intuitive way to put a pot on a fire, it’s
something to support it, so it’s an extrapolation of
three stones and placing a pot. So that’s what it is,
and it’s remained that and nothing has changed for millennia and in fact, the current
compulsion to change it is not because that is not
a good way to cook your food in terms of the mechanics
of it, it is just a bad way to cook food in terms of its
impact on the environment and on the health of the women. Otherwise, it’s the most
natural, no-brainer thing to do. – Well thank you for that and
we’ll have a chance to talk a little bit more about
some of these newer models that might replace the traditional
wood-burning cook stove but let me move down
the row to Sailesh Rao. and as I mentioned, you’re the
president of Climate Healers. Tell us a little bit
about your organization. – So Climate Healers has been
working on climate change for the last 10 years and
the idea there is we want to reverse climate
change, not just hold it to 1 1/2 degrees or degrees of
fever, we want to reverse it and so we’ve been looking
at how do we go about understanding the root
causes of climate change and how do we go about reversing it. – And so what is your involvement with the whole cook stove issue? – So it began by me going
out to Rajasthan in India because Rajasthan happens
to be a place where you see the three major problems
that the UN has identified biodiversity loss,
acidification, and climate change in one spot, you can go
study it in one spot. So we started working
there because of that and initially, it was just an intervention where wanted to give people solar lights and claiming carbon credits
for all the kerosene they are not burning and use
that to pay for the lights. It was a simple
sustainable business model. And within half an hour
after I got to the village, my business model fell apart
because the women said, “We don’t use the kerosene for lighting, “we use it to start our cooking fires.” So they had no need for
lights, they even told me, “Why do you want to change the night? “God gave us night so
we could go to sleep.” (laughs) And I found out that they
burned 10 kgs of wood per household per day for
cooking, and so that’s why they were using the kerosene,
to start the cooking fires. So I asked them, “If I
give you solar stoves, “would you use them?” Because you could do a
very similar business model with solar stoves and so
I wanted to do something that would impact, that
would reverse climate change, so this was the idea, and so
they said, “Sure, show us how “to make our food and we’ll
use your solar stoves. “If you can make it with the
sun, why wouldn’t you do it?” So we designed a solar stove
that would cook their food, we deployed it in 2009
and six months later, not a single one was being used. Because the stove, the solar
stove, the way you use it was the exact opposite of
the way they cook today, culturally, so you have to
cook in the middle of the day, the solar stove, whereas
they were cooking early in the morning or late in the evening, you have to cook outside
with the solar stove, they were cooking inside,
you had to cook standing up, they were cooking sitting down,
everything you can imagine was the opposite, so they said,
“This doesn’t work for us, “we don’t want to use it,” so
that’s when Uday and his team came long, we were part
of the interim program and so as part of the interim program, students from Iowa come along with them, came a professor who happened to be Uday, and so we started looking at this problem from an engineering standpoint first. So how do we design a solar
stove that would store the energy so that they can
cook early in the morning, so they could meet all
their cultural needs? And that turned out to be
a very difficult problem. So that’s when we started
at, so how do we intervene in their own stove and
how do we make their stove more efficient as opposed to
giving them something new. – And is this something
that is currently available to these people?
– Right yeah, so we came up with this,
this was in 2015, I think. ‘Cause we had a bunch of
students from the interim program come and evaluate efficient wood stoves, so we had three different
models, we had three of each model and we went to nine
different households, we gave them these stoves
and we rotated them around and then we did a survey, the
students did a survey to see what do they like about the
stoves and what do they not like about the stoves, and as part of that, they came up with a list of
seven things that were wrong with the stoves, and we
looked at those seven things and we said, “They’re right,
obviously they’re wrong, “that’s why they don’t
want to buy these stoves.” And then we looked at that
list, every one of those things was right in their stove.
– Really? – So we said, “Clearly, this
is why they like their stove “over these new and improved stoves.” So how can we make their
stove more efficient? So we came up with a small
grate, it can be made with just a plate of metal
that you punch holes in and you bend it, so it
creates an elevated platform for the wood to be placed and
it allows air flow from below for the flame, so we tried that
out and the first household we tried it in, it reduced wood use by 60% and it clearly reduced the smoke as well, we didn’t know how much at that point. And we were shocked, we said,
“It cannot be that simple,” we’ve been fighting on this for years and we had this simple
solution that we missed. So we had it tested at a cook
stove testing center in India and the results, official
results, were 63% reduction in wood and 89% reduction in smoke, so when I first got that result, I said, “We’re gonna have to deploy
this first and try it out,” so we deployed 1000 units in four villages and then I went back about a
year later and did a survey to see how many were being
used and what did they like and not like about it, and so we did that. Actually, Iowa, Kailey? Kailey was there, and we did the survey. So we went to these households,
80 different households and interviewed the women and
we found that they were being used in 71% of the
households on a regular basis and the other households,
they were not using it either because they
didn’t come to the class, they didn’t understand what it was, or the device was a little
bit too big for their stove. – Wow. Well, that’s fantastic, when
we were preparing this program, you wrote a few notes to me
and you talked about the toxins that are released from burning the wood. Would you just address that for a moment? – So what happens is, the
reason I got so passionate about this particular
problem was because the women in those villages, they die
about eight years younger than the men, which is the
opposite of what you would normally expect, expectancy
of women is higher than men. And the reason was, we attributed
it to breathing the smoke but when you analyze the
smoke, you discover that there are a lot of industrial
effluence in that smoke because whatever we throw
out into the atmosphere, through our industrial processes,
it comes down in the rain somewhere and it’s in the
water, it gets absorbed by the trees and the trees
are very good filters so they filter the water
out, and all the toxins, they store it in their
trunks and their branches, so those branches were being
cut and burned by these women and they were breathing
all these toxins in there. So that started this whole
chain of me coming back and saying, “Okay maybe
the same thing is happening “here too,” because if
those toxins are there in the vegetation in
remote parts of India, they must be in vegetation everywhere. So the animals are eating this vegetation and they are storing all these
toxins in their fat tissues and when we eat animal
foods, which is where it gets concentrated, you should be
seeing a lot more concentrated doses of these toxins, so
that’s when we started looking at the dietary, impact of
diet in the western world, and how it affects health. And sure enough, imagine that,
in the villages of India, they don’t have any
healthcare, they don’t have any hospitals nearby, so if they
get sick, they get sick. Whereas here, we have healthcare,
we have hospitals nearby. Imagine if you took all the hospitals away and you took all the pharmaceuticals away, how much sooner would we be dying because of all the chronic
diseases that we get? So that’s the effect of all those toxins. – Do you still have hope that
you can reduce the levels? Is that still your goal? – Well the toxins are
accumulating, they don’t go away. These are known as persistent
bio-accumulation toxins, PBTs. So things like dioxin, dioxins are formed whenever chlorine reacts
with hydrocarbons. So for instance, our paper
is white, all paper is white, even toilet paper is white,
but have you ever seen a white tree, so wood pulp is
brown, so to turn wood pulp into white paper, you have to bleach it. This is why we go and
situate all these paper mills in poor neighborhoods,
because those toxins are going out there and they are
very, dioxins are the most carcinogenic substances known to man. And they’re going up in the
air, and they’re coming down in the rain and they’re
getting into the food and they come back to
us in the foods we eat, so the richer the food you
eat, the more dioxin you get. So because animals
concentrated in their tissues and especially concentrated
animal foods like cheese has a large dose of dioxins these day and you cannot escape it. – Well thank you. Emma, let’s move down the line to you. You’re an undergraduate
student here at the University of Iowa, a junior, as I understand? – Yes, I’m a biology honors student here. – Yeah, yeah, and you
recently went to India, I guess along with Uday and
some of the other professors? – Yeah, so my freshman
year, I took the faculty’s big idea course, People
and the Environment, and I sorta got spoiled, it
was one of my first courses on campus and we had anywhere
from five to seven faculty members in the room, giving
us their perspective, holistic view of this problem. And that my standards
pretty high for the rest of my education here at
Iowa, it encouraged me to look at problems
holistically both in my classes, in my personal life, and also
to connect with my professors even in lecture settings,
but after the course, I kept in touch with the faculty members, they were always really
willing to help me talk about how I envisioned my
future and give suggestions on what to engage with on
campus and they told me that they had applied for this
Fulbright-Hayes grant to go to Rajasthan and do more
research, learn more about the problem, and I just
thought it sounded wonderful, not only to go and see this
problem firsthand but also to continue to learn from
the faculty and sort of see firsthand how multidisciplinary
research worked. – So how long were you there? – We were there for about four weeks, so over the winter break in
between the two semesters. – And what did you see on the ground? – We were exposed to everything,
so we flew into Delhi, which is really crowded and
sort of sensory overload at first and then we also went
to villages in the Aravales and as we drove out
there into the villages, I thought I was well-prepared
in class through readings and PowerPoints and
pictures and anecdotes, I thought I knew what to expect,
of course that was foolish and being in the kitchen
with your own feet on the dirt floor and smelling
the smoke with your own lungs and seeing the kids running
around with runny noses, it brings a proximity to the problem and sort of a passion for
it I’m not sure I would have been able to develop otherwise. – Yeah, and you said that you had thoughts about the way you live
here in the U.S. as well. – Absolutely. Time after time in India, we
were told that these women are not solely responsible
for deforestation, it’s industry and mining and agriculture and it felt extremely
hypocritical to get on a plane and fly across the world, spewing carbon, and then travel from
city to city in India, drinking out of plastic water
bottles while telling these women to modify their cooking
habits or burn less wood. Here in the United States,
I have a stove, an oven, a microwave, a tea kettle,
a toaster, all to cook food. So it really made me feel
that I needed to address my own lifestyle and look
at my own consumption habits and that felt like the first place I should be addressing change. – And you told me before the program what you plan to continue to study. – Absolutely, so I don’t
have an exact vision but I know I want to
work at the intersection of health and social justice
and these faculty members have shown me that that’s possible, to work in not just one
but many interacting fields and get at issues that
really matter to you. – Pretty nice to have
students like this here at the university, huh? – Our university’s full of them, we’re so fortunate to be here. – So what are some concluding thoughts about the environmental impact
of the cook stoves here? You’ve been studying India,
we know that in many other parts of the world, these kinds
of rudimentary cook stoves are still in use, how does
this message get out to people, assuming that a little, if
we just take for example the little grid that you have created, if that were seen to be the
best way to move forward, does that imply that
governments need to get involved in sending one to every
home, how would this, how could this be adopted more quickly? – Well, the governments are involved, there is a cottage
industry, there is passion, there are people, folks here
who drove up from Colorado just because they heard of
this conference on cook stoves. People have been working
on this for 30, 40 years, they are the most passionate
people on the planet and the governments, India,
China, are pushing it, there are UN programs,
there are WHO programs, there are programs of
every description and size. It shows that the problem
is very important to people but it also shows how intractable it is and that’s the most important thing for us as researchers and also as
learners, is to understand that these are really
really complicated problems. If they were simple, they
would be solved easily. And that it takes people
from all disciplines to work together to try
to solve the problem. It is not a technology problem, there are lots of technological options, it’s a social science problem. So we don’t have a technology
fix that will cure this. It is behavioral change, it’s
how to get people to move towards new ways of cooking
and living and eating and so on and so forth,
and it’s as difficult there as it is here, the problems
here are no different than there, we just happen
to distance ourselves from the impacts of our actions. For example, if you cook on
an electric stove, you’re not seeing the smokestack at the
coal-burning power plant. When we drive, we don’t pay
attention to our tailpipes. There are all of these things,
I mean, it’s all carbon, it’s all going up in the air,
and it’s a global exchange of carbon everywhere, the
pollution in China affects us and our pollution
affects the entire world. So we have to understand that
it’s a complicated network of problems, it’ll take all actions, but the most important
actors are individuals. We can always blame
governments for inaction, but unless we change, I mean each of us, the key to sustainability is
asking, “What am I doing?” When I teach about sustainability,
I always ask people, what are you doing to change? And this visit changed me a lot. Immediately, I came back from the visit, I went vegan because I realized
how everything is connected and that our consumption really
matters to the environment. And Sailesh did and so it does influence how you conduct yourself
and I think that’s the most important thing people
have to get, it’s us, it’s not the government or some agency that’s gonna fix this, it’s each of us, working on ourselves,
actually, as agents of change. – Right, right. Wow, well thank you all so
much for starting us off on this program tonight, I
wanna say thanks to Udaykumar and Sailesh Rao and also Emma
Greimann, thank you very much and I hope you can stay with
us for part two of this series on women’s health and the environment. All World Canvass programming
is available on YouTube, iTunes, and the International
Programs website, which is international.uiowa.edu. I’m Joan Kjaer and for
International Programs, thanks very much for joining
us and we’ll see you next time.

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