God. Guns. And gas stoves?

Gas stoves are not nearly as controversial as the cultural wars are making them out to be. We should limit new gas infrastructure and incentivize switching, writes Greg Harris.
Gas stoves are not nearly as controversial as the cultural wars are making them out to be. We should limit new gas infrastructure and incentivize switching, writes Greg Harris.

The hyper-partisan furor over gas stove bans more than supports George Washington's view (from his 1796 farewell address) that the “spirit of party … agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms,” undermining the “consistent and wholesome plans” of public administration. Political factions jockeying for power — resulting in worse outcomes for the American public — is as old a story as the nation itself.

Following public speculation by Richard Trumka, Jr., who leads the Consumer Product Safety Commission, that a national ban on gas stoves might eventually, someday be on the table, right-wing media and political figures exploded this month into a toxic stew of hot air more noxious than the most dangerous stove could ever emit.

On Twitter, Congressfolk Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) memed-it-up with uniformed gas stove squads and the slogan “God. Guns. Gas Stoves.”

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis hawked gas stove paraphernalia emblazoned with a motto Washington would have recognized (and regretted): “Don’t Tread On Florida.” Fox News’ top story for a while was the alarming discovery that “Democratic Cities Are Already Moving Forward with Gas Bans” — the bans in question being, of course, not news at all, having been instituted more than a year ago.

My own experience replacing my apartment’s ancient gas stove with a modern induction one suggests Washington’s warning was incomplete: he warned about parties, but not about the stupefying effect of a two-party system that insists — against all logic and experience — that every issue has precisely two sides, and we must cling to one with all the tenacity of the paid entertainers who masquerade as political commentators on TV.

My journey to an electric stove began with worry over cars. The condo where I raised my children sits near a busy Cambridge intersection, and for years I suspected harm from the idling, belching tailpipes just beneath our front windows. Advisories kept getting published showing that fine-particle pollution—soot, essentially, of 2.5nm or less—passes into the bloodstream, contributing to asthma, chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder, and stroke.

... right-wing media and political figures exploded this month into a toxic stew of hot air more noxious than the most dangerous stove could ever emit.  

My own diagnosis with hypertension spurred me to buy an air quality monitor to research the situation in our condo.

As I’d feared, the meter frequently glowed red with levels of pollution reaching the World Health Organization’s critically unhealthy range. These peak pollution moments didn’t correlate to rush hour, though. They correlated to my cooking on our gas stove. I was so surprised by what I’d found, I wrote an article a year ago for The Boston Globe alerting readers to the danger of gas stoves, which after all burned fossil fuels no less than did the cars outside. “Get a ventilation hood to the outdoors,” I urged. “Consider an electric stove.”

Then I thought: Why not take my own advice?

Quickly, I discovered why not — and the reasons involved neither politics nor gas-stove nostalgia. Changing the infrastructure of a 100+ year old building is just tough.  Everything seemed straightforward at first, the way remodels often do. Then time and costs telescoped.

An induction stove meant upgrading the condo’s electrical service, which meant replacing a breaker box and running thick cable through the ceiling, which meant discovering our ceiling harbored broken tiles from a long-ago remodel upstairs, which meant …. At one point I came home to find the kitchen ceiling looking like it had been subject to an amateur appendectomy, the contractor leaning out the kitchen window wrestling the new ventilator hood exhaust pipe into place, and a fine particulate mess filling the room that mocked the very idea of breathable air.


The end result was, I have to say, exactly what I’d hoped and exactly the opposite of what the culture war shouters would have you expect: It’s boring — in the best possible way. After a few weeks of being keenly aware of the minor differences between induction and gas (faster boiling! weird buzzing!) and delighted that the air in my apartment tested so much cleaner, I forgot all about it and just focused on cooking dinner.

The experience, though, opens a window to the question of government policy. Here’s my assessment — using George Washington’s words — of three big policy ideas floating in the ether:

Ban gas stoves for new construction. “Wholesome.” Nevermind the Fox News headlines designed to scare you, this is plain good sense. If as a society we want to use less fossil fuel to avoid catastrophes like ocean acidification, Boston going underwater, mass extinctions and food shortages, we should stop building new infrastructure for it.

Force the 35% of American households that currently use gas stoves to switch to electric. “Ill-founded.” On balance, I’m glad to have done it, but my kitchen ceiling still looks like it had an unlicensed appendectomy, because I ran out of money to address it. Someone less committed to the environmental and health benefits would be cursing the government the whole time.

Craft incentives and subsidies to make switching affordable. “Consistent.” This is the actual current policy of the federal government, as updated most recently in 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act. The mix of incentives varies by state and income level (for Massachusetts, see here; and nationally, here). This approach positions the government to help individuals help themselves and support the greater good.

Evolving national policy, then — limiting new gas infrastructure, incentivizing switching —seems to embody Washington’s long-ago idea of good policy: “consistent and wholesome,” with the government acting to ensure the longevity and health of our Republic.

My only question for our elected leaders, then, is, Hey! Can you make the Inflation Reduction Act’s subsidy for upgrading your building’s electric service retroactive to last year?

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Headshot of Greg Harris

Greg Harris Cognoscenti contributor
Greg Harris teaches writing at Harvard University and edits Pangyrus, a literary magazine. 



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