VIDEO: Two guys, three countries and 5 million cooking stoves

Posted on June 28th, 2011 by Laura Byrne Paquet in News

Greg Spencer and Austin Mann are on a mission: to help provide 5 million cooking stoves by 2020 to families in developing nations, including Kenya, Guatemala and Haiti.

Today, they released a slick video–the first of four in a web-only series called Stoveman–chronicling their efforts to learn a bit about what life is like for the 2.5 to 3 billion people around the world who cook all their meals over open fires. This episode takes place in Kenya.

Episode 1: Woodwalk from The Paradigm Project on Vimeo.

While the voiceover is occasionally a little condescending (a reference to Kenyan women as “simple” made me flinch), the two young Americans seem to do their best to immerse themselves in the daily chores of theirĀ  hosts. They chop scarce wood with hand axes and haul it home on their backs in 70-pound bundles. They’re self-deprecating and engaging about their haplessness in carrying out the arduous task. As Andrew Revkin pointed out on his New York Times blog, Dot Earth, this is reality television with heart.

So what’s the deal? Why are Spencer and Mann trying to provide all these stoves?

The two are part of a organization called the Paradigm Project, As explained on the Paradigm website, cooking over open fires creates carbon emissions, takes up a lot of time that could be spent on more productive things, and leads to respiratory diseases that kill 1.6 million people a year–mainly women and children.

This image of open-fire cooking--in Burkina Faso, not in Kenya--is a Creative Commons/Flickr photo from Tree Aid, a U.K.-based reforestation charity.

Paradigm is a business, not a charity. It aims to earn money partly by selling carbon offset credits in developed countries to offset the manufacture and purchase of fuel-efficient rocket stoves, which minimize dangerous smoke. The project keeps a portion of the sales revenues to fund future investments in stoves, and works with NGOs overseas to find good places to operate.

It’s an interesting development model, and I wish them luck. Spencer and Mann seem keen and dedicated, and the problem they’re addressing is serious. And if the light-hearted videos draw funders who might shy away from more earnest appeals–and give them a glimpse of life in the developing world in the process–that’s a valuable bonus.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the issue of deforestation, development and climate change, check out the book Climate Change and Global Poverty (see link below).

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