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What Is All the Fuss About Gas Stoves?

Gas stove with pans cooking over flames
Gas stove with cooking pans over flames

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.

Gas stoves

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.

This article first appeared in our February 2023 newsletter.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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