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Turn off the gas
Turn on the magnets
I have been arguing for some time now that we’ve reached the point in human history where we should stop setting stuff on fire: coal, oil, biomass, or in this case the “natural gas” that’s found on cookstoves across the country. The most important reason is because all that combustion is cooking the planet—but a new study published this week reminded us all of another huge virtue. It found that 13% of childhood asthma in the country can be attributed to kids living in houses with gas stoves. That’s 650,000 kids—20 Fenway Parks worth of wheezing young people.
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“It’s like having car exhaust in a home,” Brady Seals, a co-author of the research, told the Washington Post. “And we know that children are some of the people spending the most time at home, along with the elderly.”
This isn’t the first study to come up with similar findings. Earlier efforts found that children in households with gas stoves were 42% more likely to come down with asthma. And of course the effect is magnified in poorer households, which are smaller and less likely to be equipped with adequate ventilation.
All in all, living in a house with a gas range is a risk factor equivalent to living in a house with secondhand cigarette smoke.
It would be cruel to report this news if there weren’t easy ways to fix the problem—after all smoking cigarettes is optional, but cooking dinner isn’t. Happily, we live at a moment when the problem is easily fixed. The magnetic induction cooktop, like the electric heat pump, is a miraculous piece of technology. It uses…magnets to heat up pots and pans and cook your food. (Don’t ask me how). The stove doesn’t get hot (see the picture above of the man sticking his hand next to the pan of boiling water) but the food does.
And it’s cheap. This link will take you to an Amazon offer of an induction cooktop for less than $60. I used this model quite happily for years (as did the thousands of other reviewers) until we broke down and installed a full induction cooktop. You do need a pan made of an alloy that attracts magnets—I wager that if you take one off your fridge and try sticking it to your pots you’ll likely find a few. (Cast iron works, and stainless steel. Your good stuff—the All-Clad, the Le Crueset—should work).
And it cooks just fine. If you want to boil water, it’s much faster than a cooktop. You can control the heat quite accurately; I like to use a wok, and it works for that. It works for everything.
The natural gas industry hates this technology, just like they hate heat pumps; their entire business model is, ‘we dig stuff up and set it on fire.’ One of the classic pieces of recent environmental journalism came from Rebecca Leber in Mother Jones when she showed how the gas lobby was paying social media influencers to insist that somehow cooking over a blue flame produced better food. “#cookingwithgas makes food taste better,” says Camille, an LA-based foodie who poses artfully with her spatula, to her 16,700 followers. This is not true. What is true, as Leber reported, is the following:
Shelly Miller, a University of Colorado, Boulder, environmental engineer who has studied indoor air quality for decades, explains that when a stove burns natural gas—just as when a car burns gasoline—that combustion reaction oxidizes molecules in the air to create nitrogen oxides, which can make us sick. “Cooking,” she says, “is the No. 1 way you’re polluting your home. It is causing respiratory and cardiovascular health problems; it can exacerbate flu and asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in children.”
Some environmental problems are hard to solve. But this one shouldn’t be. The EPA is considering new regulations, and many communities are banning gas hookups for new buildings. Last month, Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. of the Consumer Products Safety Commission announced that the agency would issue a request for public comments by March on possible regulations on gas stoves, which he said “could be on the books” by the end of this year. An outright ban on new gas stoves was a “real possibility,” he said.
Which would be great. But there are tens of millions of existing homes, and stoves tend to last a long time. We should make sure that these induction cooktops are available to everyone, including those who can’t afford the $60 pricetag; no one can afford to let their kids or grandkids get asthma. If you wouldn’t smoke in your kitchen, then don’t smoke in your kitchen!
In other climate and energy news:
+Great Salt Lake is on track to disappear within five years, because Utah is using too much of the water that used to flow into the lake. There’s a big snowpack this year, and diverting a lot of the melt into the lake may be one of the last chances to come to its rescue
+A big win for the campaigners at Clean Creatives and others working on fossil fuels and media when Vox pledged not to take fossil fuel ads for any of its properties, which incoude not just its eponymous website but also New York magazine. The policy will also extend to lobbyist groups “whose purpose is to support fossil-fuel companies;” it follows similar action from the Guardian in 2020.
+The US is about to compound previous mistakes by permitting even more 'biomass’ to be count as clean energy. As Grist reports,
The world’s largest producer of wood pellet biomass energy has come under fire from a whistleblower who said the company uses whole trees to create electricity, despite the company’s claims of sustainably harvesting only tree limbs to produce energy. Wood pellet facilities have faced opposition from local governments and federal legislators, with community members in Springfield, Massachusetts successfully blocking a permit for a new biomass facility in November.
Despite concerns from environmental groups, the forecasted demands of the EPA show that the nation is pushing for more of these fuels in the coming years. This past spring, a bipartisan group of Midwestern governors asked the EPA for a permanent waiver to sell higher blends of ethanol year-round, despite summer-time smog created by the higher blend of renewable fuel.
+Sony and Honda are collaborating on a new electric car brand called Afeela. Why? Because, as a spokesman said, "At the heart of this mobility experience is the word 'feel,'" explaining that focus “will be on sensing and interacting with people.” It will come with a bumper display that “will allow the vehicle to show information and interact with people outside the vehicle.” Hmmm.
+Dave Roberts has an excellent account of new data that shows why rich people use so much more energy than anyone else—mostly it has to do with mobility and travel.
The top 10 percent consumes 187 times as much in vehicle fuel and operation as the bottom 10 percent. “In land transport, the bottom 50% receive a bit more than 10% of the energy used,” says the report, “and in air transport they make use of less than 5%.” Conversely, the top 10 percent uses around 45 percent of land transport energy and 75 percent of air transport energy.
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