Brick kilns and their pollution are ubiquitous in South Asia. An interdisciplinary team is combining satellite data and political persuasion to track kilns, raise public awareness and incentivize kiln owners to use cleaner technologies.
Stephen Luby’s epiphany came to him 30,000 feet up in the air. The Stanford epidemiologist was flying over India when he realized the view from his window seat was adequate to identify brick kilns on the ground below. The insight was startling for its potential to shed light on an environmental nightmare that kills thousands of people every year.
Luby, a professor of medicine and affiliate of the Center for South Asia, and a team of Stanford researchers including political scientist Francis Fukuyama and geophysicist Howard Zebker are following up on Luby’s insight to revolutionize brickmaking in South Asia, an industry that burns coal, biomass and even tires to dry hand-molded clay into the ubiquitous building material. Brick kilns across South Asia have a global warming impact equivalent to that of all passenger cars in the U.S., and air pollution from these kilns kills tens of thousands of people each year as a result of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, according to Luby.
Starting in Bangladesh, the novel collaboration is working to measure kilns’ health effects and incentivize kiln owners to switch to cleaner technologies.
“We’re doing something completely novel here,” Luby said.