If you count yourself among those of us who are too online, you may have been seeing flashes of a debate about removing gas stoves. Like a flare off the coast of Broome, a sober public health commentary morphed startlingly quickly into sworn oaths that gas stoves would only be pried from cold, dead hands.
It started with a January 2023 article in a public health journal, “Population Attributable Fraction of Gas Stoves and Childhood Asthma in the United States.” The paper’s contribution was minor, essentially mathematical.
The authors took previous studies that had correlated factors present for children who developed asthma and calculated an “odds ratio” for each one. In other words, were children who developed asthma more likely to have, say, parents who smoke, or central heating in their bedroom, or furry pets?
They then turned to the American Housing Survey to find state-by-state data on prevalence of gas stoves. The end result was headlines that “gas stove pollution causes 12.7% of childhood asthma.” Sure, the study never said anything about causes, but off we ran.
“Gas stoves could be making thousands of children sick,” said one headline. True enough.
“With talk of nation-wide bans…”, ran another. Well, sort of. A Washington consumer safety commissioner said, in response to a question, “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
Republican senators began to twitter: “The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner.” The New York Times felt compelled to report, “No, Biden is Not Trying to Ban Gas Stoves.” And in the Trump era, it is almost impossible for American right-wingers to sound too unreasonable.
At a policy level, electrification is a necessary step toward the major carbon emissions we need, and for this reason many countries have been subsidising electric stove installation for years. Fossil fuel vendors have a lot to lose.
They also have a well-worn cultural beeline that runs from CO2 via Big Loud Cars to being A Real Man. Nobody will care that much about gas stoves, you might think.
Wrong! They burn. They cook steak. They feed barbecues. Only a Beta Male would be against that. Shove your electric stove where you keep your soy milk and “woke M&Ms.”
In this sad spectacle, 20th century carbon-intensive masculinity is sputtering out like a flickering, light-blue flame. #GoodRiddance
But meanwhile, in the neoliberal age your identity is your brand. Your political opinions are published next to your profile pic and monetization links.
There are heady debates to be won about the common good versus the freedom to do stupid things, like burn carbon in your apartment or not wear a mask, even when you’re being exposed to covid. We can get there. But first, we all apparently have to focus on broadcasting what kind of person we are.
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