The Perfect Stove

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Half of the world’s population still burn wood, dung, coal, or other solid fuels for cooking, which leads to environmental and health hazards around the world. So how do you build cheap, durable, clean-burning stoves for three billion people? The New Yorker staff writer Burkhard Bilger reports on the quest for a stove that can save the world.


Burkhard Bilger

Comments [11]

Jon P. from The Garden State

Solar cooking sounds great but one stove does not fit all. I could see where it could cause problems with eating traditions and plagued with problems when it comes to weather conditions. No cooking for several months during the monsoon season…. Rain + solar anything = bad… Also does not work before dawn or after dusk. Do you only eat when it’s light out? I’m going to guess most people listening to the radio eat whenever they want, light or dark out. Are people in 3rd world countries only allowed to eat while there is sunlight to power their stove? This might not agree with everyone’s eating tradition. Whenever this happens, no matter how well intended and great the life saving and environmentally friendly product is, it will never be used if it dramatically cuts into centuries old rituals and cooking in many cultures is central to many old and important social rituals.

Dec. 15 2009 12:22 PM
J. Kim Chaix from Carroll Gardens

There are four compelling reasons to push a crash program for the global conversion to energy efficient stoves, the kilns that produce charcoal, and the production of alternative, sustainable biomass as a fuel.

We don't believe there is one stove that will solve all problems. Instead, we support a crash program that will spur the local production of stoves based on available materials. Stoves can be made of mud, ceramic, metal, tin. This approach provides jobs and markets. The same goes with kilns and sustainable alternative biomass.

And it needn't cost that much. Microfinance and the sale of the offsets from the efficiency can help pay for the program!

How urgent is this? Consider that more people die of smoke inhalation related illnesses than die of malaria worldwide. Energy poverty (those who don't have access to modern fuels and electricity) is a factor in keeping people in poverty. Finally, the environmental degradation is a very serious issue, especially in Africa.

Our goal is to make energy-efficiency in stoves, kilns, and sustainable biomass a top agenda item for development agencies/government.

There is a lot more information at



Dec. 15 2009 12:19 PM
Laurie Spiegel from Tribeca

Solar cooker info:

How do we get them to everyone who is now burning wood, which results in deforestation and carbon release?

Dec. 15 2009 12:00 PM
David from Brooklyn

These unfortunate people, who use natural means to cook, probably use less CO2 per year than all the air conditioners used by New York mega stores with their doors open onto the street the entire hot summer, which leads to environmental and health hazards as well.

Dec. 15 2009 11:58 AM
....pants on fire from westcheser

lets get real here. stoves used in 3rd world countries are NOT the majority factor in soot and pollution: it's the big industries in big countries.

truth be told, the biggest pollutant is simply, if the objective is GREEN then reducing death is really not going to help Mamma Nature.

Let's call it for what it is...another product with a GREEN tag (but a bit brown and tarnish in my view)

Dec. 15 2009 11:58 AM
pordy from Drew University

ProPeru (subsidy of ProWorld) is an NGO that runs programs that installs clean burnings stoves. A colleague and I have led groups of college students installing these stoves in rural Peru.

Dec. 15 2009 11:58 AM
Laurie Spiegel from Tribeca

Solar cookers please! - An international crash program to give them to everyone who wants one. A bunch of different groups make them.

Dec. 15 2009 11:57 AM
Dan from Greenpoint

As with almost all development issues, we have to be conscious of unintended consequences when we talk about changing something as ingrained as stoves. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon. People in my village cooked over an open fire in a small, separate houses. The smoke from the cooking fire collected near the roof, where food stored on racks was slowly smoked--and thereby preserved. Further, the smoky kitchens were one place people could sit where mosquitoes didn't bite them. I wonder if piping the smoke out of those kitchens would increase the malaria rate.

Dec. 15 2009 11:56 AM
Solar powered?

Des your guest know something about a solar-powered device that simply concentrates the sun's energy and cooks quite well?

Dec. 15 2009 11:53 AM

Thanks for the helpful reminder, Brian, that most of us take our cooking range for granted. Fact is: most of us take most of what we have for granted. It is simply pathetic how ignorant and oblivious many people are.

Dec. 15 2009 11:52 AM

the most innovative, powerful THING i've heard in a looong time. this one's up there w the polio vaccine.

thank you mr. bilger for bringing this to our attention.

Dec. 15 2009 11:49 AM

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