Lately, gas stoves have been much discussed in the news and social media. The uproar started when a US Consumer Product Safety commissioner publicly questioned whether gas stoves could be made free of health risks. Senator Joe Manchin tweeted, ‘I can tell you the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on’—and the White House reassured Americans that ‘the President does not support banning gas stoves.’
What is ‘natural’ gas?
‘Natural’ gas, like coal and oil, is a fossil fuel, formed from the remains of plants and animals over millions of years. It’s mostly methane, plus several hydrocarbons, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. In the United States, it’s used in power plants to generate electricity; in many industrial processes including plastics production; and in buildings—to heat space and water, to dry clothes, and of course, to cook food.
The term ‘natural gas’ has been promoted by the gas industry to make it seem harmless and safe. But the opposite is true: this fossil fuel—extracting, transporting, and burning it—is a major cause of climate change and a serious threat to human health. Let’s call it ‘fossil gas.’
Fossil gas and climate change
The two most important climate pollutants are carbon dioxide and methane. Methane, which makes up 70-90 percent of fossil gas, is about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Fossil gas leaks from wells and pipelines emit massive quantities of methane.
In addition to extracting and transporting, burning fossil gas is a major factor in climate change. In 2021, gas combustion for energy (that is, in power plants) was responsible for about 34% of the total US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
Just like coal and oil, if we’re going to curb global warming, fossil gas needs to stay in the ground.
Fossil gas and human health
The conventional way of extracting gas, like extracting oil, pollutes the air and increases the risk of asthma and other lung diseases, cancer, heart problems, and birth defects. That’s why we pushed so hard for SB 1137, the law requiring oil and gas wells to be set back 3200 feet from houses, hospitals and schools.
These days, much gas extraction is done by hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, which not only emits methane and other toxic air pollutants, but also creates vast amounts of wastewater and ecosystem-damaging noise. Fracking causes serious health problems by polluting water and soil as well as the air.
Cooking with gas has been proven to cause increased risk of asthma, cardiovascular problems, and learning deficits, especially in children. Recent research has shown that gas stoves emit benzene, which is linked to cancer, even when not in use.
Nevertheless, the gas industry has been effectively promoting gas stoves for decades. In the past few years, their PR firms have been paying Instagram influencers and putting fake posts on Nextdoor to gush about cooking with gas. But in fact, many chefs love cooking with electric induction cooktops—an affordable, fast-heating, non-polluting alternative.
The simple truth is, gas has got to go. If you want to make a difference in the fight to keep our climate livable, help get your city or town to ban ‘natural gas’ fittings in new home construction. By moving away from gas to renewable energy sources for buildings, we’ll all breathe easier.
On January 28, the Concord City Council voted 3-2 to reject the Term Sheet put forward by Concord First Partners, LLC, for development of the former Concord Naval Weapons Station. This site, known as the Concord Reuse Project, comprises more than 5,000 acres; about half this area is home to the new Thurgood Marshall Regional Park.
The other half is slated for massive development with 13,000 housing units and several commercial districts, including a ‘transit village’ around the North Concord BART station. The City Council’s recent vote means development will be delayed for years.
Hopefully, by the time a new master developer is selected and a new plan is accepted, Concord will have a strong ordinance banning natural gas infrastructure.
The oil companies have succeeded in stalling efforts to reduce the harm they’re doing to California communities.
Last September, Governor Newsom signed SB 1137, which requires a 3,200-foot health and safety setback around both new and reworked existing oil wells. This legislation bans all drilling within a kilometer of homes, schools, or hospitals—improving the health of more than 2.7 million Californians.
But oil and gas companies have forced the state to put the law on hold until the 2024 election. To get the law on the ballot, they filed a referendum with the CA Attorney General's office and mounted a 20-million-dollar campaign, paying petition circulators to collect signatures supporting the referendum. Widespread reports say petition signers were misinformed that signing would help protect communities from oil drilling—although the opposite is true.
On February 3, the California Secretary of State announced that enough signatures had been certified to get the referendum on the ballot as a proposition. So, in the next election, voters will decide the fate of SB 1137. One more reason to get out the vote in 2024!
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