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Elephants, clean cookstoves, and clean power: we are all connected, somehow.


Where Elephants Roam, Struggle For Clean Cookstoves Continues

New National Geographic series “Secrets of the Elephants” is a stunning piece of visual story telling that has a hidden backstory in the struggle for clean cookstoves.

The new National Geographic series “Secrets of the Elephants” is getting rave reviews for its stunning cinematography and intimate portrayal of the family lives of these awe-inspiring fellow residents of the planet Earth. The series came across the CleanTechnica radar because it unspools in Africa and Asia, where human households still depend primarily on foraged kindling and other biomass as well as charcoal and kerosene to manage the daily task of cooking, which brings renewed attention to the clean cookstoves movement.

The Secrets Of The Elephants Are A Mystery Worth Pondering

Much of the stories behind Secrets of the Elephants take place far beyond the reach of cameras. That makes the series even more tantalizing, with flashes of compelling images that reveal how much still remains hidden. Go ahead, see for yourself.

The four episodes of Secrets of the Elephants were shown back-to-back on Earth Day, April 22, on Disney+, and National Geographic pulled out all the stops for this one. The series is executive-produced by the top notch visual storyteller James Cameron. Natalie Portman’s narration captures the emotional depth of the storylines, which are deftly navigated by elephant expert and conservationist Dr. Paula Kahumbu, who is a member of the boards of National Geographic and the World Wildlife Fund and CEO of the African nonprofit organization WildlifeDirect.

Among other global activities, WildlifeDirect advocates for a ban on the ivory trade. Locally, the organization tasks people of all ages to adopt the an active role in wildlife conservation. One of its projects is the new Nature Positive Kids outreach program for children ages 7-12, with the goal of reaching 10,000 students in 200 schools across  Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

The program builds on National Geographic’s Team Sayari, children’s program collaboration, which includes the US Department of State and the US Agency for International Development as well as The Walt Disney Company Africa.

More Clean Cookstoves For The Next Generation

The importance of the youth connection is also surfacing in the clean cookstoves movement, which seeks alternatives to traditional cooking fuels that strip habitats, hinder household economic development, contribute to climate change, and pose significant public health risks to women and their families.

Last year the global organization Clean Cooking Alliance rolled out its new Youth for Clean Cooking strategy, in recognition of the “vital role of youth in achieving universal access to clean cooking, contributing to the cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future that young people need to thrive.”

“Ninety percent of the world’s 1.8 billion youth live in developing countries where 2.4 billion people still rely on polluting fuels and stoves to cook their food,” CCA points out. “The negative impact of traditional cooking on young people is substantial, both in terms of the size of the youth population affected and the cross-cutting nature of the adverse impacts on youth, including health, climate, local environment, education and employment.”

Clean Cookstoves: The Technology Solutions

Among other organizations hammering away at the problem is Project Regeneration, which points out that “household cooking and heating accounts for over half of the world’s black carbon emissions [aka soot and similar particles] and an estimated 4 million premature deaths from indoor pollution-related illnesses,” each year.

“Black carbon has nearly a thousand times the warming impact of carbon dioxide per unit of mass. Even though black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for a few days, when it returns through precipitation, it accelerates the melting of snow and ice and damages plant health and soil,” they add.

Project Regeneration draws attention to a wide variety of technology solutions including home-made biogas generators to substitute for burning animal waste and compost. They also highlight off-continent entrepreneurs who are working with local partners to introduced cleaner cookstoves Africa, such as the company BURN.

Home-grown industries such as the Indian firm Greenway Appliances are also on the Project Regeneration radar. Greenway is an award-winning, woman-led company that is marketing a high tech, airflow-regulated cookstove to replace mud ovens.

Elephants, Clean Cookstoves & Solar Power

Secrets of the Elephants also calls attention to some interesting connections between National Geographic, women in non-traditional careers, elephants and clean energy. National Geographic points out that Eliza Scidmore, who was its first female writer, photographer, and board member, was also the first person to get a photograph of an elephant published in National Geographic magazine, in 1906.

More recently, in 2016 National Geographic took note of a new solar-powered electric fence in Nepal that enabled elephant tenders to keep their elephants without chaining them up.

On the clean cookstoves side, the Nigerian organization Solar Sister takes a holistic approach to improving energy access in “last mile” communities.

“Our goal is to expand clean energy distribution with a focus on training women entrepreneurs to market alternative technologies to ‘last-mile’ communities,” Solar Sister explains. “Many are rural, but many are also in urban or ex-urban areas that lack access to grid energy, are have low or seasonal incomes, or are isolated.”

“Even those who are able to connect to the grid can experience regular outages,” Solar Sister notes.

“Families who switch to clean cookstoves significantly reduce time spent collecting wood, money spent on solid fuels, and smoke output, significantly improving the health of women and children,” they add, in addition to benefiting from increased productivity during the night-time hours due to solar-powered electric lights.

What’s Next For Cleaner Cooking

CleanTechnica has dipped in and out of the clean cookstove topic over the years (see our complete coverage here). With an estimated 2.3 billion people lacking access to energy-efficient modern cooking devices, the problem may seem insurmountable. Adding to the gloomy outlook is a 202o report from the International Energy Agency, which described a big jump in electricity access, but a dismal flatline in clean cooking access between 2010 and 2018. Outside of Africa, some regions actually backslid as population growth outraced the reach of new technology.

On a brighter note, a clean cookstove tipping point appears to be drawing closer. In 2020, the Clean Cooking Alliance launched a new Venture Catalyst program that tapped 33 companies, mainly in Africa, to accelerate clean cookstove activity from various angles, with a focus on high efficiency biomass conversion, biogas, and solar power.

Stay tuned for more cooking solutions as CleanTechnica catches up with this hyper-local technology that could have a significant impact on global carbon emissions, managing climate change, and preserving elephant habitat, too.

Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Find me on Spoutible: @TinaMCasey or LinkedIn @TinaMCasey or Mastodon @Casey or Post:  @tinamcasey

Image (screenshot): Secrets of the Elephants courtesy of National Geographic.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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