Two sides to reducing carbon emissions

Scientists in developed countries are more or less unanimous that climate is warming because of rising CO2 levels from the burning of fossil fuels.  That spurs calls for less reliance on fossil fuels and more use of renewable energy resources, including biomass.  The situation for the other two-thirds of humanity is much different.  The majority depends on biomass fuels (wood products, agricultural waste or animal dung).  Unprotected burning of biofuels releases such levels of carcinogens that 1.6 million people including 400 thousand in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly women and infants, meet an early death each year.  By 2030 this may rise to over 9 million, if current fuel use continues.  Biofuels also devastate woodland cover, and burning animal dung reduces natural fertiliser used on fields: two contributors to the inexorable decline in conditions of life in the “Two-Thirds World”.

Energy researchers at Harvard and the University of California have examined the options for household fuels in the light of these “counter-environmentalism” facts (Bailis, R. et al. 2005.  Mortality and greenhouse impacts of biomass and petroleum energy futures in Africa.  Science, v. 308, p. 98-103).  A safer alternative to wood and dung burning is the use of charcoal, yet that would increase CO2 emissions by around 50%, as well as increasing loss of woodland.  The higher energy content of non-coal fossil fuels would actually decrease the “greenhouse” burden, while improving health dramatically.  They estimate that a shift to petroleum-based household fuels would delay between 1.3 to 3.7 million deaths per annum, by 2030


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