Charcoal: A boom for Africa that may be killing it

A booming business is literally fueling the economies of many nations in Africa: Charcoal. This back-to-basics approach to energy production has grown from a simple cooking method to a source of power and economic empowerment.

In the last 20 years, charcoal production has soared in African nations, by some estimates doubling. Individuals are making money as charcoal producers and resellers, while entrepreneurs are making products specifically designed to utilize the black, dusty energy source.

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So what’s the problem? Oh yeah – it’s killing people and the environment.

Charcoal has put deforestation into overdrive, exacerbating already deadly climate change effects and is killing people in their homes.

The World Health Organization says smoke from fires that burn solid fuels like wood, dung, coal and charcoal are killing more than 10,000 people a day. The US government estimates “smoke from open fires and stoves claim 4.3 million lives each year. That’s more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.”

Deforestation in general is a huge problem across Africa. Researchers warn that some areas in South Africa could fully exhaust their fuelwood reserves by 2020. The situation is not any better in other African nations.

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