Ever since I moved out on my own at 18, I’ve coveted a gas stove. My dad, who became increasingly ambitious in the kitchen as he got older, would always preach the virtues of a powerful gas stove, and he was particularly fond of the one in his Toronto house that had six burners (including a pair with 30,000 BTUs of power). Using an electric stove to make dinner, he would say, is like driving a golf cart to work.
So why, after two decades of living in rental apartments and enduring their underpowered electric stoves, did I not switch over to gas in the first home I owned? Because there’s a growing body of research that was reaffirmed with a new paper released two weeks ago suggesting the culinary rewards aren’t worth the risks.
There is, of course, the negative climate impact of using fossil gas rather than electricity, especially in places where the grid is powered by clean sources. And while stoves burn a relatively tiny amount of gas, they’re a useful gateway for bringing gas into the home and enabling its other uses, like home heating and hot water. The gas industry understands this and has aggressively promoted gas stoves for years now.
But it’s the health impacts of gas stoves that have really grabbed people’s attention right now. A new peer-reviewed study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health drew a direct correlation between gas stoves and the risk of childhood asthma, and it attributed 12.7 per cent of current cases in the United States to the emissions they produce. This is hardly the first piece of research to draw that correlation, and it adds to the concern that public health experts expressed for years.
In response, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission floated the idea of new regulations on gas stoves, while New York’s governor promised to make her state the first to ban gas appliances and heating in new buildings. U.S. President Joe Biden quickly knocked down the idea of a nationwide ban, but it hasn’t stopped conservative cultural warriors from pretending that the government is poised to seize them from people’s homes and businesses. “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove,” Texas congressman and former Trump administration official Ronny Jackson tweeted last week. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!”
As with most dumb American culture wars, especially ones that involve fossil fuels, this one has already made its way across the border. Jesse Kline, the National Post’s deputy comment editor, took a swing at it in a column of his own. “At the end of the day, this issue has more to do with climate zealotry than public health,” he wrote. “The left is doing its utmost to ensure that gas companies become the new tobacco companies, and so far, they seem to be succeeding.” Rob Anderson, one of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s triad of senior advisers, tweeted out a meme hinting at his (and her) willingness to take up this fight.
Gas enthusiasts have suggested the data here is being torqued, or at the very least overblown. And Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an Australian epidemiologist and public health communicator, suggested we all might want to pump the brakes just a bit here on the link between gas stoves and childhood asthma. “Personally, I would phrase the findings of this research as ‘gas stoves are associated with 6.3 to 19.3 per cent of current childhood asthma’ rather than arguing that this fraction of asthma is necessarily caused by gas stoves.”
Even so, that’s still a worrying data point. And the response from the Canadian Gas Association doesn’t exactly dispute the existence of that risk. According to a fact sheet, the best way to mitigate it is by installing “a range hood that covers all stove burners and vents to the outside of the building” and “cooking on the back burner and using the range hood on the highest setting.”
That you’d have to avoid using the burners closest to you and need to aggressively vent the byproducts outside is a major tell about the dangerous emissions coming out of those gas stoves. And as climate researcher Michael Thomas noted in his newsletter, this reliance on good ventilation is at odds with how most people use their stoves. “The industry talks about the best-case scenarios for air quality and ventilation,” said Rob Jackson, a researcher at Stanford. “In practice, we don't typically find the best-case scenarios in people's homes.”
That’s why the industry is pivoting to a more familiar (and effective) argument: it’s what the very best cooks prefer. But a growing number of those experts — professional chefs and cooks — stepped forward to make the case for induction, a technology that delivers all the power and control of a gas range without any of the noxious side-effects. In a long “ask me anything” thread, New York Times author and chef Alison Roman fielded dozens of questions about induction cooking and why it isn’t some sad compromise to gas.
New research shows that gas stoves might be hazardous to your kids' health — and conservatives are melting down about it. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver
But this isn’t an issue that’s going to be resolved with pragmatism and common sense. Like most fronts in the increasingly deranged culture wars we’re seeing — witness the far-right’s freakout over M&Ms, of all things — this fight will produce far more noise than signal.
The good news is that most of us can take comfort in two things: no, the government isn’t going to take away your gas stove, and yes, the growing awareness of non-gas options and the health benefits they offer will make them increasingly scarce. No amount of tantrum-throwing, on either side of the border, will change that.