Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carbon markets Cambodian style

Image of a street vendor in Cambodia preparing her food in a halved oil drum with charcoal as the energy sourceDear Gentle Reader,
Today, the 2009 Carbon Markets Insight Conference is wrapping up in Copenhagen.

The conference is trying to lay the groundwork for new, improved carbon markets around the world.

In Cambodia, carbon markets are old hat.

Cooking power, for example, is supplied from charcoal, carbonised wood.

And you don't get that charcoal for free... which implies a market.

The title image is a street vendor's DIY charcoal BBQ for making food to sell in Phnom Penh.

Your humble scribe wandered into the kitchens of a few small restaurants; they were powered by charcoal also.

Where does one buy charcoal?

My first question, as I live in Asia, is do you mean wholesale or retail?

Image of carbon for sale at the side of the road for housewives to power their stoves and feed their families

Retail carbon sales are made at the side of the road, like everything else, of course. 

Mind you, the wholesale network is also a roadside job.

I woke up before sunrise and caught these people in the twilight sorting carbon, wholesale, on the road in front of my hotel. 

Image of a Cambodian man arriving with a bike loaded up with charcoal--carbonized wood.
I couldn't take pictures until it was brighter; I didn't want to spoil any one's night vision with my flash because sorting black objects in the dark is not easy...

Image of a Cambodian man sorting his load of charcoal, carbonized wood.
After the boss has roughly determined how much charcoal he has bought, he will hand it down to his workers who will squat on the road, weigh it, and repackage it...

Image of a Cambodian man passing charcoal, carbonized wood, on to his helpers to sort and repackage in smaller sacks.
Then the dollar baggies are delivered to restaurants and market stalls.

There. You have it. 

Carbon markets Cambodian style.

Just don't ask where the wood that is cut down to be burned is from. 

People in third world countries don't look upon jungles as being as beautiful as wealthy eco-tourists do. For them jungles are just nuisances that might contain some things which are easily convertible into food or cash.

The argument here is that when you are just trying to survive, today counts more than tomorrow.



debra said...

Living in the moment at its finest...

bindu said...

Interesting observations ... you are right about forests in poorer countries. This is a big problem in India as well. But if there are ways by which environmental protection can involve the residents there and give them a way to earn a living, they will protect this resource too. Unfortunately, only NGOs try to do this sort of stuff in India. Most natural elements are seen as resources that can be exploited in unsustainable ways.

Cloudia said...

"People in third world countries don't look upon jungles as being as beautiful as wealthy eco-tourists do."
Great post, Scribe!
Once again you take us places we would never otherwise see - and to thoughts we would not otherwise have. LOVE IT! Best to Pommes, Aloha-

Junosmom said...

My BIL works for conservation groups and his wife is Brazilian. So we've had this discussion about forests in Brazil. Part of his organization's efforts have been to show the poor how to use the forests to create income without cutting down all the trees - for example, growing (I think it was) coffee trees under the canopy of the other trees. It may have been another type of tree, but basically, finding crops that can co-exist with the forest.

It is difficult for them to hear industrialized countries say "you can't cut your trees because of the air/environment" because we've already had a period of time when we did just that and made the air what it is and made ourselves wealthy.

I enjoyed the photos. The food looks good. There is something about grilling that makes one think the food will be good and safe, even though you don't know when the last time the grill was cleaned.

Anonymous said...

I don't recall seeing any charcoal sorters or vendors in Thailand back in 1969 when I lived and worked there. Nor in Laos.

Interesting post, Chris.

The Weaver of Grass said...

That last paragraph just about sums it up Chris - and who are we really to question that from our position of never being really in a state of want?

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Debra,

Soot? The finest particulate matter? ...

Dear Bindu,

I am with you, Bindu. Ecological (survival) dreams have to work with the commercial realities of local people, otherwise local people's commercial (or survival) dreams will not work for ecological realities.

Dear Cloudia,

I know that you have thoughts like these too... and I am glad that you have enjoyed the post. I have to fall into bed, and I will visit in the morning...

Dear Junosmom,

I could not agree more, with all your points in fact.

Clean the grill, though? What about all the flavour in the bacteria? :)

Dear Gigihawaii,

The charcoal sorters were all gone and delivering charcoal before 6 am each morning...

Did you work in Laos, too? Where?

Dear Weaver of Grass,

Thanks. That was precisely what I wanted people to consider.

(time to fall asleep)


simmers said...

very cool Chris. You have piqued my curiosity...if convenient sometime in the future, can you track down where the wood comes from?
I've been sick as sin the last little's nice to catch up on your blog.

Sepiru Chris said...

Hey Simmers,

Get well soon, and we can go back to Cambodia together.

I did try tracking it down a bit. The gentlemen spoke no French or English though.

My understanding was that the wood came from the jungles around the Tonle Sap River.


Barbara Martin said...

When survival is the highest priority all environmental issues are ignored. Though an intersting insight you have presented, Chris.