Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the heartland for University of Iowa’s Global Forum to talk cookstoves. With people from a variety of backgrounds — anthropology, engineering, economics, gender studies, journalism, non-profits and more — we’ll discuss the troubling persistence of harm from biomass cookstoves used by three billion people around the world. This multidisciplinary approach seems like a good step away from thinking about this as a purely an engineering problem, or an economic problem, or a development problem. It’s all those things and a whole lot of other messy humanness. It’s what I explored in my book, A River Runs Again and this piece for Nature. The event is free and open to the public.
I thought the air would improve as I traveled from New Delhi to Mumbai. Then the dump caught on fire. Here’s a dispatch for The New Yorker:
From above, the sprawling trash heap of Deonar (pronounced “Devnar”), in eastern Mumbai, resembles a large left ear. A curving stream traces its outer edge, feeding into Thane Creek, the body of water that separates the city from the Indian mainland. On the opposite side of the ear, where the head would be, is the teeming neighborhood of Shivaji Nagar. In late January, Deonar erupted in fires. An arrowhead-shaped plume of smoke floated up from the three-hundred-and-twenty-six-acre site, carried aloft by northeasterly winds, and blanketed Mumbai. For six days, the city’s air-quality rating remained at “very poor,” with measurements of particulate matter exceeding safety standards by a factor of five. Seventy schools were closed, and hospitals were flooded with patients suffering from lung and heart ailments. (Air pollution contributes to more than six hundred thousand premature deaths in India every year.) The acrid smoke burned the eyes and throats of people from the Gateway of India, a monument at Mumbai’s southern tip, to Chembur, fifteen miles away, near the dump. Locals took to calling the neighborhood Gas Chembur.