Cooking with Gas

Back in January, Bloomberg News published a story quoting an obscure government official named Richard Trumka Jr. He works with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates stuff like furniture and electronics and household appliances. Basically, the agency is supposed to make sure that the stuff we buy is safe, and won’t kill us or make us sick.

The Bloomberg story talked about how a growing body of research shows that gas stoves are bad for indoor air quality. They let off pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, and they’ve been linked to heart problems, cancer, and asthma. And in this story, Trumka said the government would look into it, and maybe recommend some regulations on the appliance.

Within days, the US went batshit crazy and gas stoves were all over the news. They had become the subject of the latest skirmish in our seemingly never-ending culture war.

The level of emotion generated by this common household appliance was surprising. But it turns out there is a long and well-documented history that explains our current moment. The natural gas industry has spent the past hundred years selling Americans on the gas stove and trying to convince us that it’s superior to the electric alternative. That it’s classier, more functional, and that it just cooks our food better.

Alongside that full-bore advertising campaign, the gas industry has waged another, quieter battle, mostly beyond the view of the public. They’ve worked for decades to obscure and dispute what scientists increasingly know is true: gas stoves are bad for our health. No matter how much we love that click-click-whoosh sound.

Today, we’re going to look at those parallel histories and understand how we got to this place, and why Americans have so many feelings about our stoves. Our guide is Rebecca Leber. She’s a climate reporter who’s worked for Mother Jones, Grist, and Vox, and she’s done a lot of work to unearth the history of the gas stove, and what its popularity means for our health and the climate.

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