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Why are gas stoves important for the climate and the gas industry?

Gas stoves are a major source of dangerous indoor air pollution, but they emit only a small part of the greenhouse gases that warm the climate. Why, then, have they taken such a heated role in climate policy?

This debate reignited on January 9, 2023, when Richard Trumka Jr., a member of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, told Bloomberg News that the agency planned to consider regulating gas stoves. due to concerns about its health effects. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” he noted.

Politicians reacted with overheated outrage, putting gas stove ownership on a par with the right to bear arms Y religious freedom. CPSC Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric tried to quell the uproar, stating that he “did not seek to ban gas stoves” and that his agency “does not have any procedures for doing so.” The Biden administration also does not support a ban, a White House spokesperson said.

However, Republicans in Congress rushed to the barricades, introducing bills with titles like the Guard America’s Stoves (GAS) Act and the Stop Trying to Obsessively Vilify Energy (STOVE) Act.

This skirmish may seem like a tempest in a kettle, but it reveals important contours of the battlefield on which climate politics is being fought. As I explain in my book, “Confronting Climate Gridlock: How Diplomacy, Technology, and Policy Can Unlock a Clean Energy Future,” gas cooktops are important to the climate and the gas industry because they serve as gateway devices to residential uses. dominance of natural resources. gas: heating and hot water.

serious health effects

The direct impacts of gas stoves are a far more pressing concern for human health than they are for the Earth’s climate. Gas stoves are one of the main indoor sources of nitrogen dioxide, or NO₂, which can cause or worsen respiratory illnesses in people who are exposed to it.

For example, scientific studies show that living in a home with a gas stove increases children’s asthma risk by nearly a third and contributes to lung disease in adults.

The climate does not care what fuel we use to cook. Gas cooktops account for just 0.1% of US greenhouse gas emissions, even taking into account recent findings of methane leaks from larger-than-expected homes. They also do not represent a large part of fuel sales, burning only 3% of the natural gas consumed in homes.

Prevent home electrification

The importance of gas stoves for the climate becomes clearer in the context of the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the US by 2050. This goal can only be achieved by reducing use of fossil fuels throughout the economy, including in households.

Installing more efficient furnaces, better insulation, and smart thermostats are helpful first steps, but getting closer to zero will require switching to electric space heating and water heating. In the US, 46% of homes use natural gas as their primary heat source, 40% use electricity, 10% use other fuels such as heating oil or propane, and 4% have no heat. For water heating, the percentages are 47% gas, 47% electricity and 6% other fuels.

Today, electric and gas heating have similar carbon footprints, as approximately 60% of US electricity is generated from fossil fuels and many homes use inefficient electric resistance heaters. But the emissions intensity of electricity is declining rapidly as coal plants close and solar and wind power expand.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035. While current federal policies fall short of that goal, a growing number of states have committed to 100% clean electricity by 2050 or before.

Natural gas is much more difficult to decarbonise than electricity. Low-carbon fuels such as biogas and hydrogen, which could be blended with natural gas, are likely to remain in short supply and expensive.

Additionally, advanced technologies allow electric heat pumps to heat both air and water much more efficiently than traditional gas or electric furnaces and water heaters. That is why several scenarios for energy decarbonisation envision a major shift towards electric heat pumps. This transition is well under way in Europe and is starting in the US.

Replacing existing gas furnaces and water heaters with electric heat pumps can be expensive and complicated, although the incentives of the Inflation Reduction Act can help. But if new homes are built all-electric from the ground up, they avoid the cost of installing natural gas hookups and emit far less air pollution and greenhouse gases over the lifetime of the homes.

New York City and more than 50 California towns, cities and counties have already banned gas connections in new buildings. Elsewhere, 20 states have prohibited the enactment of natural gas bans.

Gas stoves are a big reason why.

The power of a slogan

“Most people don’t care how the water heats up or how their heater works, but the Viking stove in the kitchen, people have this visceral emotional attachment,” Michael Colvin of the Environmental Defense Fund told me in an interview for my book, “Coping with climate stagnation.”

That emotional attachment makes stoves a flashpoint in battles over climate policy.

“The kitchen is the hill the gas industry wants to fight up,” Bruce Nilles of the Climate Imperative told me in a 2020 interview presaging the current skirmish. “They’ll say, ‘Do you want the government to take away the gas stove that makes you a great chef?’”

The American Gas Association has promoted the notion that gas stoves make skilled cooks since the 1930s, when it introduced the advertising slogan “Now you’re cooking on gas.” An AGA executive planted the phrase with the writers of comedian Bob Hope. He was soon picked up by comedian Jack Benny, and even Daffy Duck. The phrase has also appeared over time in endorsements and hashtags on social media.

Gas burners provide more control than many stoves with electric coils, especially older models, which can take time to heat up and cool down. Today, however, many chefs, consumers, and experts say that gas is no longer the obvious choice. Magnetic induction cooktops, which cook using electricity to generate a magnetic field, heat faster, control temperatures more precisely, and use less energy than other cooktops.

“There’s a big misconception that electric cooktops don’t cook as well as gas cooktops,” said Shanika Whitehurst, a member of Consumer Reports’ research and testing team, in a recent article. “But technology has improved to the point where electric and especially induction stoves and stoves cook just as well, if not better, than gas.” Consumer Reports ranks induction and some traditional electric cooktops among its highest-rated models.

Homes built today will endure well beyond Biden’s 2050 net-zero goal. And the longer the gas-is-better myth persists, the harder it will be to fully electrify new homes from the ground up. The way I see it, if “cooking with gas” keeps us tying new homes to natural gas grids for decades to come, our health, climate, and wallets will pay the price.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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