Saturday, April 19, 2008

Illuminating Change BoGo Lights in the Developing World - by Andrea Verdin

Imagine putting your child to bed and not being able to comfort her with a light in the hall. Imagine trying to help your child after work with his reading and not being able to make out the words on the page for lack of light in the room. In the Western world, a nightlight is nothing more than a source of comfort. Light to read by or to see another’s faces is taken for granted. However, for two billion people around the world, a nightlight is a necessity and the lack of one can be expensive and dangerous. With no other choices other than a kerosene lamp, a candle, or a single-use battery flashlight at their disposal, people in Africa, South America, and the Middle East risk their health and homes while straining their incomes to have access to precious light. And what if they simply cannot afford it? Then they sit in utter darkness.

Mark Bent, a former Marine and oil industry executive, went to Africa and saw the need for a source of light that wouldn’t just last for a few hours nor endanger the people using it. He felt a pull on his heart and said to himself, “I can’t do anything about world hunger; I can’t do anything about racism; I can’t do anything about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But I can do something about lighting.’’

Bent and his corporation, Sunlight Solar, have come out with BoGo Light, a solar powered flashlight that will work for up to twenty years before it will need any parts replaced or repaired. The way the light works is by absorbing the sun’s energy from its solar side panels during the day, which then is converted into light emitting diodes, or LEDs. The LEDs power the light for two days before it needs to be recharged again.

For people who, in the past, have spent up to thirty percent of their income on kerosene for their lamps or up to half of their income on a flashlight that will only last for sixteen hours, these lamps are a godsend that not only provide light that is cheap, but also provide a safe way to add hours to their day without negatively impacting their health or security. One major group who will benefit from the use of BoGo Lights is school-aged children in the developing world. Kids who have spent an entire day in the fields have only a small amount of daylight in which to study before it gets dark. As a result, many of these children cannot learn to read, and therefore may never be able to escape a life of poverty. With just a little light, now they have a chance.

Kerosene lamps are not only costly, they’re also hazardous to the users’ health. According to the World Bank, 780 million people in the developing world, the majority of whom are women and children, are exposed to kerosene lantern fumes equivalent to ingesting two packs of cigarettes a day. More than two-thirds of lung cancer victims in the developing world are female, as women are the primary homemakers. Accidental fires kill or wound hundreds of thousands of families and countless homes are destroyed because of their widespread use. Now people in Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, South America, Central America, and Haiti are able to have lights in their homes, and Bent has seen the difference this has made in their lives.

“I went to a refugee camp in Ethiopia where they had been using kerosene, and it would take up such a large portion of their incomes,” he said. “It was terrible. Not only for the user, but for the environment too. The BoGo Light has literally changed their lives.” Bent hopes his light will have an impact on people’s lifestyles in the United States as well.

“What we do with single-use flashlights in the United States is just plain stupid. The light industry functions because of planned obsolescence. We buy something knowing that in about fifteen hours, it’s not going to work anymore. The flashlight patent by Eveready Flashlights has not changed since 1984. The light model hasn’t been changed for over a hundred years, and to me, that’s ridiculous.”

According to the Energizer Corporation Website, six billion batteries are manufactured annually worldwide. And with a majority of these batteries being improperly disposed of, it is no wonder the EPA states that “the single largest source of mercury in garbage is household batteries, especially alkaline and button batteries.” Mercury carries the threat of causing brain and kidney damage after long-term exposure.

People who are environmentally conscious immediately see the benefits of owning a BoGo, considering the longevity of the LEDs (they last up to two years) and the shelf-life of its other parts. What Bent really wants people to understand, however, is that when they decide to be a little bit greener with their lifestyle, they’re also helping someone else receive the gift of light. For every BoGo Light bought, SunNight Solar will give an international assistance group like Feed the Children, Samaritan’s Purse or Invisible Children a light to give to someone in need along with the money needed to ship the light.

But the best is yet to come from SunNight.
Next month, the company will introduce a new BoGo model that is completely waterproof and has even more battery life. SunNight is also teaming up with the Rockefeller Group to come up with a bigger, stronger product that will light up an entire room and possibly ward off certain malaria-carrying mosquitoes in residences. For Bent, the ability to give people the chance to feel secure in their homes and give them the gift of light is a calling that lights up his life.

“I was in the oil industry, and I was very highly compensated, but I viewed God leading me this way,” he said. “I just had to do it. I had to make a change.”

For more information, visit the BoGo Light website at Andrea Verdin is a writer and San Diego native who’s slowly learning more about the changes that need to be made in the world, and is trying every day to make a difference. She can be reached by email at

Quote of the Day and for days to come...

One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever-shifting desires.

Albert Einstein

We've Been Changing the Climate for Eons, and That's Reason for Hope

Our epoch needs a new name. You're familiar with, say, the Jurassic? It started 200 million years ago and ended 55 million years later, give or take. For the past 12,000 years, we've been living in the Holocene. But in 2000, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen pitched a new name for our times: the Anthropocene, the epoch affected by people. He dated it to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s — in other words, when we started messing things up. William Ruddiman, a retired climatologist at the University of Virginia, likes the name Anthropocene, too. But he thinks it started much, much earlier — as far back as 6,000 BC, when human beings first discovered agriculture. That's when we started razing forests and burning lots of wood, pumping enough carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere to alter the world's climate.

What's the difference? Scientists still argue — though not as much as deniers would have you believe — about the extent to which climate change is the result of human activity. And they still argue — quite a lot, actually — about how quickly the climate shifts in response to new conditions. As I understand Ruddiman, we humans may have been screwing up the climate for far longer than anyone thought. But that's good — because if we could change things then, we should certainly be able to change them now.

The gist of Ruddiman's argument is that 8,000 years ago, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began their sharpest increase in 350,000 years — a CO2 spike that correlates with the origins of agriculture. Then, 5,000 years ago, methane levels jumped — at roughly the same moment humans started growing rice in paddies (organic matter decomposing in water emits methane). By 2,000 years ago, agriculture and forest-clearing had added as much as 140 billion tons of CO2 to the air, enough to stave off what would likely have been another ice age.

Since then, the climate has wiggled back and forth between warm and cold. Around AD 800, things got weirdly hot; Antarctic ice cores show atmospheric CO2 peaking then at 285 parts per million. Around 1300, CO2 levels started dropping, and by 1600 that number had decreased to as low as 275 ppm. According to Ruddiman, humans caused that nosedive, too — by dying in large numbers: In the 14th century, about one-third of Europe's population died in the Black Plague, and around the same time, some 50 million Native Americans were being wiped out by European germs. The much-reduced surviving population burned less wood and coal, grew less food, and even allowed wooded areas to grow back.

Today things are heating up again. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been on the steep incline of an exponential growth curve since 1800. Today they're at roughly 380 ppm. How high will temperatures rise as a result of so much carbon? We don't know. But the more you mess up the climate, the more feedback effects there are and the more chaotic it gets, until eventually we reach tipping points, when various important climatic systems — Arctic summer sea ice, for example, or the Indian summer monsoon — suddenly disappear or change dramatically.

But I see hope in Ruddiman's conclusions. If humans have been changing the climate for eight millennia, that means we can keep right on doing it. We can steer the climate back on course. (I should add that Ruddiman's hypothesis is controversial, and he himself interprets his findings much more conservatively.)

So what do we do? You already know the drill: Make machines more energy efficient. Use less fossil fuel. Sequester CO2. Protect rain forests. Develop alternative energy sources like wind and solar power. Build more nuclear plants. Maybe even change the planet through geoengineering, the once far-out idea that the greenhouse effect can be reversed by, say, releasing fleets of mirrors or sulfur particles into the atmosphere. Ruddiman suggests we focus on reducing the concentrations of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, by trapping emissions from landfills and changing the fertilizer used by rice farmers.

The point is, exhorting corporations and governments to act now isn't just ringing a rhetorical bell: We can rescue the globe's climatic system as abruptly as we can push it over the edge. And no matter what we call our current epoch, it would be nice if we kept the planet healthy enough to let us live to see the next one.

Peter Schwartz ( is a cofounder and chair of the Global Business Network.