Earlier this year, the government of Victoria, Australia announced that gas connections in new homes will be banned starting in 2024. As of January 1, 2024, any new home builds, including subdivisions and public and social housing, must be connected to electricity.
The scale of such an endeavor is profound. To achieve “net zero,” Victoria would have to take 200 homes a day off gas every day for the next 22 years.
Supporters of the gas stove ban claim it will save residents money in the long run, and provide health and environmental benefits. Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute, a public policy thank-tank in Australia, told ABC News:
“It’s not telling people what they can and can’t do … this is explaining to people why this is going to be the best decision for them in the long run.”
Victoria’s gas stove ban was not the first, and it won’t be the last. Governments across Australia are considering similar policies, with a gas stove ban already in effect on new builds in ACT, and a ban passed in Sydney last August.
The regulatory momentum is undeniable—Australia is turning up the heat on the movement to get rid of gas stoves. As Adjunct Professor Bill Grace from the Australian Urban Design Research Centre at University of Western Australia put it, “resisting the change is no use.”
However, the premier of New South Wales disagrees. Chris Minns reassured residents that a gas stove ban is not currently on his list of priorities. “The challenges in energy are serious in NSW,” he said. “We’ve also got baseload power that’s coming off in the next few years and not enough renewables coming into the system. I don’t need another complication or another policy change when the challenges ahead of us are so serious.”
As Minns points out, these types of changes cannot be taken lightly. Abandoning a viable source of energy that has been built up and developed over decades is sweeping and significant, and it will impact the daily lives of millions, especially those with the least resources.
It’s worth asking the question—why are we doing this? Some news cycles, especially in the U.S. have turned the issue into a public health scare, with some pundits comparing gas stove usage to secondhand smoking and claiming that gas stoves are causing asthma in children.
These claims have made the most of limited (and disputed) evidence to stoke fear and make the case for many U.S. cities and counties to begin either fully or partially banning gas stoves in new builds, including Berkley, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The controversy around U.S. gas stove bans has been playing out messily in the public square and has spurred or reinforced similar movements in other countries like Australia. With the world’s attention on just a handful of research studies driving major policy changes, these claims are worth investigating.
It has not been well established that exhaust levels found in homes or in commercial use of gas stoves pose a safety or health risk. My colleague, Dr. Peggy Murray, addressed the notable lack of data regarding gas stove emissions on the Center’s blog. You can read it here.
As her detailed summary concludes, much more research and evidence is needed to understand the risk sufficiently to make these types of expensive recommendations or policies.
Perhaps governments decide to ban gas stoves for other stated objectives, such as energy costs, or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—but those decisions must be made without needlessly scaring people into believing their stovetops are poisoning their children.
Indeed, the culture wars have truly arrived when members of Parliament start leaking photos of Victoria’s premier, who announced the ban, cooking with a gas stove (in 2020) and calling him a hypocrite. Opinions on the issue are plentiful. It’s the scientific research we are missing.