Why electrify?

The push to evict natural gas appliances from buildings, explained.

For years, a PR conflict raged in this country, pitting electric appliances against natural gas stoves and heaters. The gas industry usually emerged victorious, successfully convincing the public that electric heaters are ineffective and will send your utility bills skyrocketing. Besides, according to the industry, a “real chef” never uses anything but gas for cooking — because it affords temperature control, keeps working during blackouts and, well, because “flame equals flavor,” or so the saying goes.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that right-wing politicians and pundits went ballistic when scientists and regulators said it was time to ditch natural gas and go electric for the sake of human and climate health, and maybe even for cooking. It seemed like heresy, denying everything that Americans had been taught about the “clean-burning” fossil fuel.


But the move away from natural gas isn’t just another volley in our appliance wars. It’s coming now because the reasons to abandon natural gas have become overwhelming, even as electric appliance technology evolves and the power grid gets cleaner.

Burning natural gas emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Its main ingredient is methane, a far more potent climate-warming gas that leaks from appliances, pipelines and the infrastructure used to extract and process the fuel. Heating and cooking with natural gas can also be dangerous: Researchers have found gas appliances emit unhealthy levels of air pollutants into homes and businesses; the fuel can explode if ignited; and a malfunctioning furnace can fill a house with carbon monoxide, killing everyone inside it.

It’s enough to give an unpleasantly literal meaning to the meme politicians and pundits have been parroting online lately: “You’ll have to pry this gas stove out of my cold, dead hands!”


Hannah Agosta/High Country News


SOURCES: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, U.S. EPA, U.S. Energy Information Administration, RMI, International Energy Agency, Electric Power Research Institute, Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Fire Protection Association, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Talor Gruenwald, Brady A. Seals, Luke D. Knibbs, and H. Dean Hosgood, III. 2023. “Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 20, no. 1: 75. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20010075. Methane and NOx Emissions from Natural Gas Stoves, Cooktops, and Ovens in Residential Homes, 2022. Eric D. Lebel, Colin J. Finnegan, Zutao Ouyang, and Robert B. Jackson Environmental Science & Technology 2022 56 (4), 2529-2539 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c04707

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of Sagebrush Empire: How a Remote Utah County Became the Battlefront of American Public Lands. 


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