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Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Happy Friday. If you need a laugh this weekend about something other than speakers, we recommend this article about comedians who have tried to make climate change funny. But first:
Gas stove pollution causes roughly 12.7% of childhood asthma in the United States, study finds
Gas-burning stoves in kitchens across America are responsible for roughly 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide — on par with the childhood asthma risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke, according to a study.
The peer-reviewed study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adds fuel to a burgeoning debate over the potential threats that gas stoves pose to the planet and public health.
It comes as scientists and activists cheer the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recent decision to weigh new regulations on indoor air pollution from gas stoves, even as the natural gas industry fights to keep the signature blue flames of the appliances in American homes.
Gas stoves, which are used in about 35 percent of U.S. households, can emit significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that can trigger asthma and other respiratory conditions. The appliances can also leak methane, a potent planet-warming gas, even when they are turned off, according to research published last year.
Asthma, a leading chronic condition globally, affects about 5 million children across the country. The study, which was led by the environmental think tank RMI, suggests that nearly 650,000 cases of childhood asthma can be attributed to gas stove use.
“It’s like having car exhaust in a home,” said Brady Seals, a manager at RMI who co-authored the research. “And we know that children are some of the people spending the most time at home, along with the elderly.”
The authors relied on 2019 Census data to determine the proportion of children exposed to pollution from gas stoves. They borrowed their methodology from a 2018 analysis that found 12.3 percent of childhood asthma cases in Australia were attributable to gas cooking ranges, and they used data from a 2013 analysis that found children in households with gas stoves were 42 percent more likely to experience asthma symptoms.
The burden of asthma falls disproportionately on children of color and those in lower-income neighborhoods. Black and Hispanic children are twice as likely as White children to be hospitalized for asthma, while poor households are more likely to have smaller kitchens that lack proper ventilation.
“This study’s findings are directly relevant to discussions about environmental justice,” said Rob Jackson, a scientist at Stanford University who has researched methane leaks from gas stoves.
“No child should have asthma from breathing pollution from gas stoves when safer electric options are available,” he added, referring to induction cooktops and other electric versions.
The American Gas Association, a powerful trade group representing the U.S. natural gas industry, slammed the study’s methodology and findings, accusing the authors of pursuing a “headline-grabbing approach” that lacked scientific rigor.
“The claims made in this paper are clearly driven by simple advocacy-based modeling and hypotheticals over the deep and sophisticated analysis we should see in sound science,” Karen Harbert, the association’s president and chief executive, said in an emailed statement.
“The authors conducted no measurements or tests based on real-life appliance usage, emissions rates or exposures, and did not adequately consider other factors that are known to contribute to asthma and other respiratory health outcomes,” Harbert added.
Asked to respond to these criticisms, Seals said she stands by the soundness of the authors’ approach and conclusions. In particular, she noted that the 2013 analysis controlled for other factors that can cause asthma, including exposure to tobacco smoke, pets, mold and water damage.
Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate outdoor air pollution from cars, power plants and other sources. But the agency lacks the power to regulate indoor air pollution from gas stoves and other appliances.
For decades, advocates have urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to fill this regulatory vacuum that persists inside people’s homes. The five-member commission is tasked with ensuring the safety of consumer products by addressing “unreasonable risks” of illness and injury.
Last month, Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. announced that the agency would issue a request for public comments by March on possible regulations on gas stoves, which he said “could be on the books” by the end of this year.
Trumka, the son of the late labor leader of the same name, called an outright ban on new gas stoves “a real possibility.”
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm seized on the study to promote the tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act that offer households thousands of dollars to transition from fossil-fuel-burning heaters, stoves and cars to cleaner versions.
“We can and must FIX this,” Granholm tweeted Wednesday.
Sen. Stabenow, EV champion, won’t seek reelection in 2024
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on Thursday announced she won’t seek reelection in 2024, creating an open seat in a swing state after Democrats narrowly held onto the Senate majority in the midterm elections, The Washington Post’s Eugene Scott reports.
Since coming to Congress in 2000, Stabenow has sought to prioritize the auto industry, which plays a major economic role in her home state. She has emerged as one of the most vocal advocates for electric vehicles on Capitol Hill and fought to include the EV tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act.
As chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow has also advocated for climate-friendly agriculture policies, including in the landmark climate law and the upcoming farm bill.
A few lawmakers have already indicated interest in a possible run for Stabenow’s seat, including Reps. Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin, both Michigan Democrats who flipped red seats blue in 2018.
At least 2 dead as fierce rain and wind again batter California
A destructive winter storm system has pounded the West Coast over the past week, with torrential rains and fierce winds already killing at least two people in Northern California, causing extensive power outages, and spurring evacuations and road closures, Brianna Sacks, Reis Thebault, Brady Dennis and Matthew Cappucci report for The Post.
Officials have voiced concern that more catastrophic flooding and avalanches could lie ahead as the storms, known as atmospheric rivers, persist into the weekend. So far, about 150,000 residents across the state have lost power, according to poweroutage.us.
The extreme wet weather comes on the heels of a years-long devastating drought that has parched much of the West. Just last week, 80 percent of the state was in a “severe” or worse drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
However, many residents and local authorities are concerned that the sudden switch to intense rainfall — a signature of climate change — could add stress to the already strained environment, making trees more vulnerable to toppling over and inundating roadways.
“We’re certainly desperate for precipitation here,” said Evan Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. “We just wish it didn’t have to come all at once.”
How a ‘totally insane’ warm spell is actually easing Europe’s energy crisis
As Russia’s war in Ukraine intensified over the past year, European policymakers braced for an energy “nightmare” and fretted about skyrocketing oil costs. But as the world experiences one of its warmest winters on record, the high temperatures might have actually helped avert an energy crisis in Europe, The Post’s Dino Grandoni reports.
The abnormally warm weather, which meteorologists have called “totally insane” and “the most extreme event ever seen in European climatology,” has eased energy demand at a time when Europeans would normally worry about warming their homes and businesses without Russian supplies.
In fact, the warm spell has allowed European natural gas futures to fall to their lowest level since the war began. Of course, the unexpected weather is nothing to celebrate, as it bears the fingerprints of a different crisis: climate change.