On September 21, 2010, the Secretary of State announced the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (Alliance) at the Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (GCI)—with the Clinton Foundation being one of the “Strategic Partnerships and Alliances.” By November 2014, more than $400 million had been raised for the project.
Hillary Clinton, reportedly, cooked up the project while secretary of state, but it was shaped by her family foundation.
It sounds like a miracle product in that it will “save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change.” But, it is a cookstove—more like a $25 hibachi grill than a stove.
There’s something fishy when governments throughout the world (including the U.S), corporations (including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Johnson & Johnson), and Ted Turner’s UN Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative are involved as they are with the Alliance.
No one would begrudge corporations giving to a philanthropic effort, but we would probably feel differently about our own tax dollars going to the project Clinton is hawking—especially when the project is, by most accounts, an epic fail.
The Alliance claims to provide a solution to the “fourth worst overall health risk factor in developing countries.” Its website’s “Frequently Asked Questions” download states: “Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires—the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly three billion people in the developing world—causes 1.9 million premature deaths annually with women and young children most affected.” Not only that, but “Reliance on biomass for cooking and heating increases pressure on local resources” as women and children “forage for fuel.” Additionally, “inefficient cookstoves contribute to climate change through emissions of greenhouse gases.”
To remedy this problem, it would make sense for the well-funded public-private partnership to use its money and influence to help build natural-gas-fueled power plants and infrastructure to bring electricity to the developing world. But that was not Clinton’s idea.
The Alliance’s fundraising success can be attributed to her influence as secretary of state. Before the 2010 announcement, Kris Balderston, who served as her special representative for global partnerships, on his state.gov account pressured Norway to join. They obliged with a commitment for a $600,000 “down payment.” Apparently, as emails revealed, the country wanted to be part of the launch: “They wanted to move quickly for the CGI announcement.” Once Norway signed on, while traveling the globe, on the taxpayers’ dime, Clinton recruited more partners.
If you don’t know the rules, this may seem petty. However, there are regulations against the use of public office for private gain.
While at best, Clinton’s clean cookstove campaign seems slimy, and may be illegal, one might cast a blind eye if the program achieved its goals.
These so-called “clean cookstoves,” even by the Alliance’s own literature, “may last for several years”—yet only 20 percent, according to a survey cited in the Washington Post (WP), are still in use after two years. While the Alliance has reportedly “helped drive more that 28 million stoves into the field,” most do not meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines for indoor emissions. The WP states: “The vast majority of the stoves burn wood, charcoal, animal dung or agricultural waste—and aren’t, therefore, nearly as healthy as promised.”
Defending the Alliance’s effort, Radha Muthiah, CEO of the Alliance, says: “There may not be the greatest health benefit, but there’s certainly a good environmental benefit.”
Distributing stoves that “we know will kill people” has been called “unethical.” Rema Hanna, the Harvard economist who led “Up in Smoke”—which WP calls “the most extensive field study to date on this subject”—says: “it makes no sense to ‘push more stoves into the world that people are not going to use.’”Citing a recent publication in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, David Kreutzer, Senior Research Fellow, Energy Economics and Climate Change at The Heritage Foundation, reports: “there were no long-term (after four years) health benefits from clean cook stoves. After two years, smoke inhalation was not at all different, and by the fourth year, nearly one-third of the households had so little use for the new stoves that they actually destroyed them.”
Rather than burning biomass, experts believe that gas, electricity, or both would be better at protecting health. Kreutzer agrees: “These cookstoves seem to be substitutes for efforts to provide affordable modern power to those in need”—which he says condemn so many of the poor to continuing energy poverty.
If these cookstoves don’t achieve the stated goals, why is Clinton such a proponent? As Christine Lakatos, whom I have worked with on dozens of green-energy, crony-corruption reports and who alerted me to this dirty story, found in her Green Corruption File report that Alliance work was a high priority during Clinton’s time as secretary of state. The project spanned eleven federal agencies and, so far, totals more than $114 million.
Clinton’s involvement risks, as the Washington Times points out: “Raising questions about where she drew the line between official business and aiding the family charity run by her husband and daughter.”
The answer to Clinton’s involvement, and the possible conflict of interest with her role at the State Department and “aiding the family charity,” deserves further investigation. But a hint can be found on the Alliances’ own website: carbon credits. It states: “In addition to being one of the fastest growing offset types in the voluntary market, cookstoves credits are selling for some of the highest prices observed in the voluntary carbon market.”
If Clinton becomes president, her energy policies will likely enact a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax—which would suddenly make her cookstove project profitable. Rather than helping bring modern power to the world’s poor, she’s, as Kreutzer calls it, “prolonging energy poverty for millions upon millions in the developing world.”
And that is the dirty story behind Clinton’s clean cookstove campaign.