Hillary Clinton

Clean cookstoves movement gets hand from Julia Roberts

Actress Julie Roberts is teaming with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to bring inexpensive solar or propane cookstoves to ill-equipped kitchens in the developing world.

The campaign is meant to help reduce the near 2 million deaths a year attributed to cooking over unsafe or inefficient stoves that burn charcoal, wood or other material and send toxic smoke into the lungs of whomever is near. According to cookingshouldntkill.org, indoor air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in the developing world.

“I am proud to stand with Secretary Clinton to work to reduce the senseless and preventable deaths," Roberts said in a statement. Most of those killed are women and children, she said.

Solar cookstoves were one of the main attractions at the at Fresno Earth Day celebration April 30 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Fresno. Demonstrators baked cookies (I ate one) and cooked other dishes. Thermometers showed temperatures as hot as any gas or electric oven. Very interesting.

Roberts said she first learned of the issue while interviewing Clinton for a program, “Extraordinary Moms,” to air on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Roberts joins the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves as Global Ambassador.

The alliance says it is technology and fuel neutral and promotes "solutions that are as clean and efficient as possible." Some of those stoves are simple solar cookers that capture the sun to cook food. Others use propane, kerosene or other fuels but don't vent the CO2 and smoke into the home.

In her new role, Roberts will join with Clinton, the United Nations Foundation and other partners to try and meet the Alliance’s goal of getting clean and efficient cookstoves into 100 million homes by 2020.

Clinton announced the Alliance on Sept. 21, 2010.

The Alliance is a public-private partnership of more than 60 national governments, UN agencies, private companies and nongovernmental organizations working to overcome "market barriers that currently impede the production, deployment, and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world."

To learn more, go to http://cleancookstoves.org/.

Green energy rules rhetoric, but will it stick?

Everybody's going green or says so.

Green light bulbs, CFL or LED, take up shelf space in the corner store, companies talk sustainability, even grandma buys the green brand of tissue paper.

This is all well and good, but it's substance that changes behavior on a grand scale. And perhaps that's happening. Here's an example of the little clues I keep seeing.

At the start of a briefing this week with U.S. Embassy officials in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up green energy. It was expected somewhat as she was there to recognize an international institution set up to promote development of renewable energy.

But that the Secretary of State of the world's greatest power is focusing attention on alternative energy at all during this time of unrest and economic instability says a lot to the level of attention green has attained.

"I’m delighted that we’re here in this beautiful embassy compound for us to celebrate the greening of our Embassy and to recognize what a leader the UAE is in renewable energy," Clinton said Tuesday.

Can anybody imagine Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State under President Carter, doing that while on a trip to the Middle East back in the 1970s? He may as well have said he supports cold fusion. (Maybe he did, but I think not.)

Yet, Clinton's embrace of green activities isn't all that unusual anymore. The rhetoric appears just about everywhere, a stark contrast to just a few years ago when energy efficiency, renewables and sustainability circulated mainly in conversations by true believers. But this transformation raises questions, at least in my head.

Will renewables go beyond talk? Will solar and wind energy reach parity with that fueled by fossil fuels? Can going sustainable simply be considered simply another method of extracting power and achieving energy independence?

Check back in another year. At the rate this business is experiencing metamorphosis, we could be awash in electric cars and putting photovoltaics on every California rooftop. Then again, Massey Energy Co. may succeed in getting coal named as the U.S. No. 1 priority fuel.

I hope not. Statements like Clinton's and others encourage optimism for the former.

Just last month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, clean energy frequently dominated discussion. In fact, at least one high-placed comment singled out the San Joaquin Valley's green credentials, according to a post by Gabe Dillard of thebusinessjournal.com.

Dillard wrote that a Siemens executive said California is attracting green investment "and that Fresno, California is at the epicenter of this movement as a vocal proponent of clean energy and the high speed rail." Dillard pointed out that Siemens had some insight as it was the title sponsor of an Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County's event in October focusing on high-speed rail.

The same day she made her comments at the embassy, Clinton commended the activities of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, which was formed two years ago, has 149 member countries and has established its headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

"We must develop sustainable energy sources to address the main challenges of our planet," she said at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. "The status quo today is unsustainable."

IRENA has an ambitious charter. Its mission is to promote "the rapid development and deployment of renewable energy worldwide." Officials say that energy demand will skyrocket with continued development and a global population projected to reach 10 billion in 2050. With vast renewable energy resources largely untapped, they say, recognizing that huge potential will make a "significant contribution to the world’s growing demand for energy."

One can hope. We also would like to foster renewable energy growth here in the San Joaquin Valley, which is a veritable Petri dish for the development of clean energy with its access to biogas, biomass, solar and wind. At least that's what my co-worker Sandy Nax says, and he never lies.

Photo: Clinton with Interim Director General of IRENA Adnan Amin.

EU, US push toward energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is going global.

It's not just a bunch of true believers pounding fists on tables.

Last week in Lisbon, Portugal, the year-old U.S.-EU Energy Council brought up energy efficiency and clean energy technologies in a joint statement from the council and U.S. State Department, saying the concept has "effects across our foreign, economic and development policies."

The council ordered its Energy Security Working Group to pursue an aggressive list of clean energy issues. Officials said they "highlighted the importance of enhancing cooperation on energy efficiency in the buildings sector and products," recognizing "the mutual benefit of working towards common standards, convergent regulatory frameworks and effective incentives for the deployment of emerging clean energy technologies."

Also targeted were electric vehicles, energy storage, cellulosic and algal ethanol, and carbon capture and storage. The council praised the working group for its research into hydrogen and fuel cells, solar power and even nuclear fusion.

The emerging international consensus embracing the value of energy efficiency follows that of California. The state has successfully championed energy efficiency as a way to diminish the need for new energy generation since the anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s. Consumers, the federal government and a bunch of movers and shakers in corporate America have jumped aboard relatively recently.

By working together on energy, officials involved with the council say the U.S. and Europe can increase "mutual security and prosperity; underpinning stable, reliable and transparent global energy markets; and coordinating our regulatory regimes and research programs to speed the deployment of tomorrow’s clean and efficient energy technologies."

The bottom line? Economic growth and job creation. At least that's the line from the U.S. State Department. Climate change goals also factor in.

The U.S.-EU Energy Council brought together Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Daniel Poneman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy; EU High Representative Catherine Ashton; EU Energy Minister Freya Van den Bossche; and EU Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger.

Heavy hitters. But this is politics, and the actual effect of the effort may be minimal at first. This is especially true in this case. While energy efficiency received top billing, there was also quite a bit of time given to Ukraine's natural gas transmission and Nigeria's oil fields.

Still, my impression is that the more that energy efficiency is publicized, embraced and instituted, the more the common Joe and Josephine will give it a try. It's like my recent post about LED bulbs being hawked at hardware stores across the nation. They're a little expensive to install but worth it in the long run.

Times are changing.

Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & EU Foreign Affairs & Security Policy High Rep./European Commission VP Catherine Ashton