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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Effects of Market Approaches to Green Technologies for the Poor: The Case of Improved Cookstoves

  • Author(s): Booker, Kayje Merrea
  • Advisor(s): Huntsinger, Lynn
  • et al.

"Sustainable" or "green" technologies for the global poor have been proposed as solutions to the difficult problem of how to improve the lives of the world's poorest without contributing to climate change or other environmental catastrophes. While such technologies were once the domain of non-profit and government funded initiatives, they

are now increasingly developed and deployed through market mechanisms. Using improved biomass cookstoves as a representative technology, this dissertation seeks to assess the social and technological effects of this shift to market-based approaches for development and dissemination of sustainable technologies for the poor.

Chapter 2 uses a Science and Technology Studies theoretical framework to follow the coproduction of the material form of improved biomass cookstoves and the cookstove movement from the 1960s to the present. The chapter shows that during the 1980s, particular conceptions and articulations of the problem that cookstoves were meant to solve led to a definition of technological "improvement" that included fuel efficiency, consistency of performance, and ability to scale quickly. This particular type of cookstove was much more compatible with mass-production than traditional artisanal production, creating social organizations that could mass-produce cookstoves, which then encouraged commercial approaches in order to recover costs. The move to a market-based approach was in part driven by and in part the cause of a particular kind of technology, demonstrating the mutual coproduction of the social and technological.

Chapter 3 takes one market-based tool, intellectual property, and analyses the effect of deploying it in the realm of green technologies for the poor. Using the contrasting cases of UV Waterworks and the Berkeley-Darfur Stove the chapter identifies some of the salient social and technical characteristics that determine whether such effect is positive. The complex social arrangements involved in developing technologies for the poor mean that tools such as intellectual property can be useful but must be compatible with the organizations involved at the level at which the tool is targeted, each of which may have different orientations and incentives. The type of funding at each level, donor versus investor, appears to be a particularly important variable in predicting positive or negative outcomes.

Chapter 4 examines one specific environmental policy market mechanism, the carbon market, and its role in stimulating technological change, invention, innovation, and dissemination (Schumpeter, 1942) in biomass cookstoves. It shows that carbon credits are thus far improving diffusion of current cookstoves but failing to stimulate innovation in cookstoves with stronger health and environmental impacts. Additionally, the chapter shows that the carbon market is influencing the selection of cookstoves for dissemination. The characteristics selected for are most compatible with centralized, mass production, which is likely to strengthen the shift towards these approaches.

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