Gas Stoves Are Unhealthy and Polluting, and the New York Times Is on It

live better electrically

The message "Electrify Everything!" is beginning to spread.

There is a parody Twitter account I follow, The Times is on it! "Because sometimes stories in newspapers are just that obvious" – writing about stuff long after everyone knows about it. Now they are picking up on the fact that gas stoves may not be the greatest things to be putting in your kitchen.

We have been going on for some time now at TreeHugger about how we have two rallying cries for the green building revolution: Reduce Demand! and Electrify Everything! Now the Times has an article by Justin Gillis and Bruce Nilles of the Rocky Mountain Institute, titled Your gas stove is bad for the planet, subbed To help solve the climate crisis, we need to electrify everything.

Gas is now a bigger source of CO2 emissions in the USA than coal, and as the authors note,

...despite the rising chorus of climate pledges by state and local governments, none of them has really tackled the problem of gas in buildings. In fact, gas companies are still being allowed to spend billions extending new lines, connections that will have to be capped off long before the end of their useful lives if we are to meet our climate goals.

But as Bronwyn Barry notes, we have to stop doing that right now.

Live Better Electrically

Ronald Reagan was right about at least one thing/Promo image

Gilles and Nilles remind us that all-electric homes were pitched by Ronald Reagan 60 years ago, and we all know what happened after: electricity prices went way up and gas prices down, and people in all electric houses were very unhappy. But then they go on to mention that technology has changed, particularly with the introduction of heat pumps. "They run on electricity, but far more efficiently than the electric appliances of our parents’ generation. So if we start installing them now, then as the electric grid gets greener, our buildings will be contributing less and less to climate change." Then they go off the rails a bit:

Building a new all-electric home powered by heat pumps is already cheaper than building with gas because you avoid the costs of gas lines and ventilation. For older homes the economics vary; a Rocky Mountain Institute study found the cost of installing and operating a heat pump over its lifetime can be more expensive or less expensive — plus or minus 10 percent — than having a gas system.

This paragraph troubled me. The home isn't powered by heat pumps, it's powered by electricity. Right now gas is much cheaper, and not more expensive to install thanks to subsidies from the gas company that pays for most of the gas lines. That's why I do not think it is right to pitch the "Electrify everything" mantra without "Reduce Demand!" I was critical of their study, where they go on about using smart thermostats to time-shift the use of electricity, noting:

...for new construction, it seems crazy to talk about heating systems in isolation from the building itself. Rarely in the study do they actually mention how much easier this all would be if the new homes had seriously, radically reduced demand through better insulation, windows and air sealing, how in colder climates there wouldn’t be serious spikes.

Finally, they get to the subject in their title, the gas stove in the kitchen. Gilles and Nilles note that induction ranges are more precise and faster, and point to all the research that we have discussed about the effect of gas stoves on indoor air quality.

It's great that this is in the New York Times. It is a hard sell, especially when gas is so cheap that drilling companies in Texas are paying to have it taken away. But going Electrify Everything! isn't enough; we still have to Reduce Demand!