If you associate gas stoves with “better” cooking, then you might be brainwashed by the gas industry. The phrase ‘now we’re cooking with gas?’ Yep, that’s them, too.
The gas industry has spent nearly 100 years advocating for its so-called clean, natural energy source. But as it turns out, gas stoves are as bad for you as they are for the environment.
Our Long History With Natural Gas
For nearly 100 years, the natural gas industry has advocated for its clean, natural energy source. The industry did so through commercials, cringey ’80s raps, and the help of social media stars.
As a result, we often associate gas cooking with a more traditional form of cooking—for the culinary purists, if you will. Today, around 35% of U.S. homes cook with a gas stove.
However, a recent study from the RMI suggests we’d all be better off without one.
Natural Gas’s Individual Impact
Burning natural gas emits pollutants. This means that every time your gas stove, furnace, or water heater is running, they’re releasing these pollutants in and around your home.
Electric stoves produce heat by burning fossil fuels at a power plant. “When you have a gas stove, that combustion is actually occurring right in your kitchen,” environmental epidemiologist Josiah Kephart told NPR. “There is no smoke-free combustion.”
Gas-powered heaters and furnaces typically vent pollutants outdoors. Gas stoves, though, are “the one appliance in your home that is most likely unvented,” says Brady Seals of the RMI.
With nowhere to vent, these pollutants leak into the home. Gas stove pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas also found in tobacco smoke.
We’ve known about these harmful side effects for a while, too. A 1992 study found that children living in a home with a gas stove are 20% more likely to develop a respiratory illness. Those with asthma or COPD can also be disaffected.
Natural Gas’s Global Impact
Gas stoves are also harmful to the environment. In fact, President Biden’s climate plan addresses them directly. The climate plan calls for incentives to encourage households to switch from gas to electric.
Individual states are looking to solve this issue, too. California has developed new standards that will require more ventilation for gas stoves starting in 2023. The state is also encouraging households to switch to electric space and water heaters.
As of now, commercial and residential buildings account for 13% of heat-trapping emissions. A number of studies have found that to meet Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, gas will have to go.
More specifically, we will need to electrify buildings, make appliances more efficient, and power them mostly with emission-free sources like renewable energy.
So, why is your gas stove so bad for the planet at large? It has to do with the process of collecting and using natural gas.
“Methane, which is what natural gas is made of, really just wants to leak,” Seals explains. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long.
However, the gas industry hasn’t been taking this news lying down.
Backlash To The Backlash
The gas industry has conducted its own research on stove pollutants for decades. Using that research, the industry found ways to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution. They also got rid of 24-hour pilot lights in 1990.
More recently, the AGA pushed back against the RMI study. It released public fact sheets. The AGA also published counter-reports to the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Weather Channel.
The AGA’s counter-campaign isn’t over, either. Environmental watchdog group Climate Investigations Center obtained AGA’s internal timeline for rebutting the RMI report.
Part of that plan involves a research project comparing gas and electric stove emissions. Though the AGA has yet to share any data from this project, President and CEO Karen Harbert says they want to be part of the solution.
“If the goal is to reduce emissions, we’re all in,” Harbert told NPR. “If the goal is to put us out of business, not so much.”
The AGA reported that gas utilities account for 2.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Those numbers have declined nearly 70% since 1990.
Still, the gas industry knows its days might be numbered. That’s why they’re trying so hard to convince the public otherwise. Because even with increased ventilation and reduced emissions, natural gas is unsustainable.
And when I say unsustainable, I mean the whole supply chain. Drilling and fracking leak methane. Processing and transporting natural gas do, too. Further, our natural gas reserves are closely linked to the fate of the planet.
“To avoid the worst consequences of climate change,” NPR reports, “scientists say most of the world’s fossil fuels, including nearly half of the gas reserves, will have to stay in the ground.”
The AGA is currently looking into forms of renewable natural gas. But there’s a good possibility solar, wind, and water power will beat out greener forms of natural gas.
It all depends on how quickly policy makers stoke the fire for reform. And for the sake of cooling down our planet, hopefully, they turn up the heat soon.