Energy Transitions and Environmental Change in East and Southern Africa's Coupled Human, Terrestrial, and Atmospheric Systems

Wood fuels are used as an energy source for cooking, heating, and small-scale industrial activities by a large number of people in the developing world. As populations increase, the effects of burning wood or other biomass on the vitality of forests, air quality, and human health or well-being can be severe. This project investigates the dynamic connections among these areas of concern and evaluates strategies that can alleviate problems in the future. It examines how people use forest resources for energy and whether these habits are altered by the introduction of more efficient cooking stoves and other new technologies. The effects on forest condition will be examined through direct measurements and modeling. Measurements of air quality will determine how pollution levels will be affected. The field sites are in Malawi and the results will be scaled up to determine the possible changes in the larger regions of eastern and southern Africa. This research has the potential to improve forest condition and air quality in areas at risk of severely declining environmental conditions, and improve the quality of life for large numbers of people who depend upon these resources.

The overall goal of this project is to investigate linkages between the use of biomass energy in Southern Africa and its coupled impacts on human, terrestrial, and atmospheric systems. Quantitative and qualitative field observations of both human and natural systems, scenario development, and modeling of both the atmospheric and land-use changes will further examine these linkages and quantify the magnitude of human influence. The project will explore how natural and human system resilience can be enhanced at local, national and regional scales assessing the impact of a scalable household energy intervention. This study couples both terrestrial and atmospheric systems with the human system, providing a new dimension on human-environment relationships. It also adds new insights into the relative effects of a wide array of biomass energy uses on land-use land-cover changes, air quality, and human well-being. The project also evaluates a scalable household energy intervention targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable households, and models its influence on terrestrial and atmospheric systems in future scenarios.

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