Climate Photo of the Week
Water, Land, Farming and Climate Change in the Himalaya
Sangita Gahle cooks on her biogas stove in the smoothed clay common room of her home, making chai for us while we enjoy talking about families and her joy in cooking with gas on her farm in Pairebensi, near Betrawati, Nepal. The 7 households in this tiny village were among the first in the mountain foothills to get biogas systems. Several programs for generating biogas from human and animal waste have been undertaken in the Terai, the warmer lowland of Nepal, but now the technology is moving up into the cooler Himalaya foothills. Biogas generation not only turns offal into methane for cooking to eliminate the fumes, black carbon and health risks of inefficient indoor stoves, it also saves forests from being heavily trimmed or cut for firewood and could slow the melting of glaciers from soot on the surface of the ice. The installation of the systems in Nepal has been supported by the World Wildlife Fund and Nepalese government.
The simple technology is part of a worldwide drive to cut back on emissions of black carbon -- smoke and fumes from burning wood and fuels -- because of their ill effects on human health and large contribution to global warming. Part of this initiative are two programs by the U. S. State Department with the EPA, UN Foundation, UN Environment Program and other governments: the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, and a coalition to reduce short-lived pollutants including methane and black carbon. Other NGOs like the Climate Institute also have programs to reduce smoke from home and agricultural fires. Recent studies (again here) have indicated that reducing these pollutants is a very direct and locally-focused way to save millions of lives and reduce global average temperature rise by up to a half degree C by mid century.
We are beginning a new series of photo-stories from our journey to Nepal and India earlier this year, beginning with stories about water, landslides, and cookstoves. Our travel is thanks to generous funding from the Karuna Foundation - US to report on how climate change is affecting the lives of mountain people in Nepal, India and Bhutan.
Time Magazine's Ecocentric blog by Bryan Walsh used my 1997 photo of one of the last drill rigs to be seen off the coast of Alaska with his piece on other dangers of drilling for oil in the arctic. Walsh points out studies warning that "Methane and black carbon, two potent greenhouses gases, will likely be emitted in significant amounts if drilling in the Arctic proves as lucrative as many oil companies are hoping for." The photo, made from a Greenpeace helicopter off Prudhoe Bay, is of an Arco rig which did some exploratory drilling near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the late 1990s. Arco was bought by BP in 2000. Now Shell is moving rigs north for possible drilling in this same area and in the Chukchi Sea west of Alaska.
We will be returning to Alaska for World View of Global Warming in late July and August -- to document native villages, forests and the ice and update on science in the rapidly changing Arctic. Locations will include Barrow and offshore in the Arctic Ocean, Fairbanks, Denali National park, Shishmaref and other endangered villages, and glaciers across the state. Please email Gary Braasch for details.
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