Tagging and cooking: Science in the service of sustainability

The May 20 episode of Quest, the science program on San Francisco's public television station, had two segments that might be of interest to Ethicurean readers.

The first was about the Tagging of Pacific Predators (TOPP) project. We know very little about the behavior of fish and marine mammals in the wild. How far do they travel each year? Do they travel constantly, or stay in one place? Do individuals from the same species congregate in certain areas? TOPP aims to answer some of these questions by attaching miniature collections of sensors to a variety of sea creatures. So far they have "tagged" great white sharks, bluefin tuna, elephant seals, and sea turtles, to name a few. The sensors measure the animal's position, depth, water temperature, and body temperature. Beyond satisfying scientific curiosity, the project can help us determine how to protect the wild populations. For example, the position data might identify regions of the ocean that should receive special protection. Click the image above to go watch the 12-minute video on the Quest page.

The second story is about something near and dear to my heart: building a better cookstove. In much of the developing world, food is cooked over an inefficient, pollution-spewing wood or dung fire. This has a number of negative consequences. An inefficient fire means that more time or money must be spent to collect firewood. In some parts of the world, this can be dangerous (there is a chance of running into bandits or thugs). Using wood inefficiently also increases the rate of deforestation.

After the wood is collected, the trouble continues. The fires tend to belch clouds of smoke and gaseous pollutants at alarming levels. To make matters worse, in many places the cooking is done inside, where ventilation is poor, thus exposing the women who cook — and the children who stay nearby the women — to high levels of toxins and particulate matter, causing numerous health problems. Some have argued that cookstove pollution is the biggest air-pollution problem in the developing world, due to the number of people exposed and the high levels of exposure to the pollutants. (A collection of links to information about cookstoves can be found at Professor Tami Bond's website at the University of Illinois or on Professor Kirk Smith's website at UC Berkeley.)

Quest's segment is about the efforts of engineers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to design a more efficient cookstove for refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. The design that is currently being manufactured shows a four-fold higher efficiency than the traditional three-stone method (the name refers to the practice of setting the pot on three stones and placing the fire in between them).  Engineers without Borders is also helping out, and they are collecting tax-deductible contributions on the Darfur Stoves Project website.

Visit the Quest site to watch the 10-minute video about the Darfur Stoves Project.

One Responseto “Tagging and cooking: Science in the service of sustainability”

  1. Helping people in Africa with efficient cooking methods is an excellent way to lift people out of poverty, reduce dissease and reduce demands on what little old-growth forests that continent still has. Too often, these poor people use charcoal for cooking, which is hazardous and bad for the environment.

    Naturally, there are all sorts of ways of helping them but let's all do our part.