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"Why Don't You Use a Stove?"

February 27, 2015

During assembly on Friday, February 27, Wash U professor and assistant vice chancellor for international affairs (India) Gautam Yadama launched JBS's International Week with a discussion of the energy-impoverished. He emphasized the need to think across disciplines to tackle this and other problems. Yadama is the author of "Fires, Fuel and the State of 3 Billion," which addresses the nexus of energy, poverty, ecology, environment, gender inequality and technology in rural India.

Yadama shared photographs, research and individual stories to make his point. He said, when you are energy-poor, the day begins with the hunt for fuel — a job that falls to women as a function of social norms. Those same women burn the biomass to cook (and heat), releasing dangerous smoke which compromises their health ... and the climate. Yadama said that the energy-impoverished are trapped ... that their small daily acts are essential but unsustainable, and that these small daily acts eventually produce very large negative effects on eco, water and agricultural systems.

Even though there are lots of alliances trying shift to clean stoves, that is not enough. The women who burn the dangerous biomass fuels don't have the resources to shift to the cleaner technology, or they can't fix or replace new technology when it breaks. Yadama said it is important to listen to the people embedded in the problem ... to find out "Why don't you use a stove?" He said we must get out of our disciplinary silos — that transdisciplinary and translational research is needed so that "discoveries work for the people" who need them. He traced the basic steps in this kind of problem-solving:  basic research, product development, product testing and figuring out how to make the product actually work for a million people.

Slides from Professor Yadama's Presentation