This article first appeared in The Guardian’s climate and environmental newsletter Down to Earth. Sign up here to read more exclusive articles like this one and get a digest of the week’s most important environmental news every Thursday.
The US is in its second week of a strange culture war, primarily over gas stoves. It’s a biting battle of sorts that tells us a lot about how the next phase of efforts to tackle the climate crisis might play out.
The gas stove saga (not yet dubbed “the door”, but give it time) began when an official from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said that gas stoves were a “hidden danger” and a ban on their sale “on the table” . This followed a study that found that one in eight cases of childhood asthma in the US could be due to high levels of indoor air pollution emitted by gas stoves.
Quite a violent reaction from the conservatives. Matt Goetz, Republican Congressman tweeted an image of the flickering blue flame of his furnace, warning “You’ll have to snatch it from my COLD DEAD HANDS!” Ron DeSantis, Florida governor and potential 2024 nominee, modeled a Gadsden flag with a gas stove on it, tweet “Don’t step on Florida and don’t mess with gas stoves!” Chef and regular Fox News guest even glued himself to a gas stove in a kind of protest.
Outrage should die down soon: The White House has ruled out a national ban on gas stoves, although some cities like New York and Los Angeles are moving to block gas connections in new buildings for climate reasons. But this episode shows the problem of trying to change the personal routine in the fight against the environmental crisis.
While most of us want to take action to combat global warming, we are most comfortable with the idea that solar and wind power will proliferate to solve this problem as long as we continue to live normal lives. The UK, for example, used to run mostly on coal, and now coal has virtually disappeared without any perceptible change when the lights are turned on.
Unfortunately, planet-heating emissions are linked to almost every activity in our lives, meaning that each of us will have to deal with this emergency in some way. While climate change will be addressed at the societal level, not at the individual level – you can’t go back to that, sorry – that shouldn’t negate the reality that some habits may need to be changed, which some will find bothersome or even oppressive. . .
Donald Trump, if you remember, complained that the new energy-saving light bulbs made him look orange and obsessed over the idea that water-efficient toilets needed to be flushed “10, 15 times.” Meanwhile, Trump’s nemesis Greta Thunberg may have done a lot to stigmatize flying, but air travel has surged around the world since the height of Covid-19, and most people won’t think twice about going on vacation.
Meat consumption is so detrimental to the climate that scientists are now recommending cutting it down to two hamburgers a week, the maximum, but emissions from food production are expected to rise by 60% by 2050 as global meat consumption rises driven by the new rich average. population. class in countries like China.
Even though I’m a vegetarian, I recently tried lab-grown or “cultured” meat from a California company that wants to grow (intact) pig cells to make meatballs and bacon. This kind of simulacrum of the real thing, like electric cars, is a way to closely replace harmful practices without fundamentally changing what people are used to doing.
However, given the rapid pace of emissions reductions required, environmentalists and policy makers will have to sell some loose change. We need to drive less and walk and bike more, not just change cars. It would be wise to cut down on meat consumption for a number of reasons and consider using alternatives to flying.
If we don’t find an acceptable way to force change, the climate system will do it for us less pleasantly. This month, the water was turned off in the Rio Verde community in Arizona. The desert city is seeing a housing boom even as the western United States is experiencing its worst climate crisis-driven drought in 1,200 years.
Arizona must cut the amount of water they use from the dry Colorado River by 21%, the equivalent of two million households a year. It is a painful realization, as we all may have to do, that clinging to the status quo will not help us get out of this crisis.