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I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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Today's read: 13 minutes.
- The statutory cap on the federal debt, also known as the debt ceiling, is expected to be reached today. The Treasury Department will incorporate accounting maneuvers to continue borrowing until early summer. (The ceiling)
- Moderna says its new RSV vaccine is 84% effective at preventing the virus in older adults, adding that the data will now be published in a peer-reviewed journal. (The claim)
- New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her plans to step down after five years in office. (The resignation)
- The Justice Department is opening an investigation into the death of Tyre Nichols, who died three days after a traffic stop by Memphis police that put him in the hospital. (The investigation)
- German officials told the United States they would allow export of German-made tanks to Ukraine only if the United States also agrees to send its own. (The deal)
Gas stoves. Last week, Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said his agency was considering a ban on gas stoves amid rising concerns about harmful indoor air pollutants.
“This is a hidden hazard,” Trumka Jr. told Bloomberg. "Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
The comments set off a firestorm. Quickly, President Biden said through a spokesperson that he does not want to prohibit gas stoves, and does "not support banning gas stoves." Trumka Jr. took to Twitter to clarify, saying his agency wasn't coming for anyone's gas stoves and any new regulations would only apply to new products:
Roughly 35% of Americans, or 40 million households, have gas stoves, which emit nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other air pollutants. The EPA and World Health Organization have linked gas stoves to respiratory illness, cancer, and cardiovascular issues. Last month, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that roughly 12% of current childhood asthma cases can be attributed to gas stove use.
Some lawmakers have suggested warning labels on stoves or requiring range hoods for any gas stove. At the same time, policymakers want to limit the use of gas stoves in commercial buildings. Last year, the Inflation Reduction Act included rebates of up to $840 for new electric ranges as part of funding designed to create incentives for families to electrify their homes.
However, the science on the environmental and health risks of gas stoves is far from settled. One 2013 study on over 500,000 children worldwide found “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.” Other studies published since have shown that with even moderate ventilation, the presence of harmful emittance is very low. Some reporting, like this New York Times piece, has focused instead on what you're cooking and the kind of ventilation you have, noting that the contrast in impacts on health between electric and gas is marginal.
In response to Trumka Jr.'s comments, many Republicans criticized the Biden administration, even though the White House quickly said it wasn't planning any bans. Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) chimed in, saying “the federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner” and “the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on.”
Today, we’re going to take a look at some reactions from the right and left, then my take.
What the right is saying.
- The right is strongly critical of the idea of a ban or any serious regulation, saying the science is not yet settled.
- Some criticize the mainstream media's coverage of the story, noting that it frames Republicans as engaging in a culture war for resisting regulation.
- Others argue that the most commonly cited studies are deeply flawed and deserve more scrutiny.
In The Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker said the "small triumph" for common sense and normality is so rare it's worth celebrating these days.
"More than that, the way the episode played out last week has been an instructive exercise in how modern society advances, how the ascendant left is the locomotive force behind our culture and politics. We evolve today through the imposition from above of new rules and dogmas—as if that is a stable, natural process and any attempt to resist it is ignorant, reactionary extremism. You can tell this from the way in which much of the media reported on the attempted gas-stove grab. As conservatives — and, much of the apolitical public — began to raise their voices against Commissar Richard Trumka Jr.’s diktat declaring war on gas stoves, the media took up the familiar narrative. 'How Gas Stoves Became a Right-Wing Cause in the Culture Wars' explained Time Magazine.
"An unelected official proposes some indefensible new regulation in the name of ‘science’ that materially and adversely affects the lives of tens of millions of Americans—and it is somehow another front opened by the ‘right wing’ in their ‘culture wars.’... You can frame a good deal of the political and cultural evolution of the country in the past few decades in this way," Baker wrote. "The left elites compel adherence to their latest ideological orthodoxy and anyone questioning it is waging culture war. It happened with same-sex marriage, the idea that sex is independent of biology, the proposition that all white people are racist, the assertion that the planet is burning. All started out as intellectual hobbyhorses of the left fringe and quickly wound up being examples of the ‘far right’ trying to impose its will."
In National Review, Steve Everley took a swipe at the research, saying much of it has "fundamental if not disqualifying flaws."
"The largest analysis of any possible link between gas stoves and childhood asthma found 'no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.' ... So, what is this 'growing body of research' that supposedly links gas stoves to negative health impacts?" he asked. "Several studies in recent years have attracted headlines, but their methods were suspect at best and far from representative of a real kitchen. They also all have links to environmental groups trying to ban fossil fuels in favor of a full electrification policy... Take, for instance, this 2020 study from researchers at UCLA. They claimed to link gas stoves to asthma, but they used a model that assumed no ventilation.
"They also used the wrong metrics, comparing moment-in-time peak concentrations to a longer-term averaged standard. Dr. Dan Tormey of Catalyst Environmental reviewed the report and determined it was 'not appropriate nor realistic.' ... Notably, the study was funded by the anti-fossil fuel Sierra Club, which the authors fully disclosed. In January 2022, researchers at Stanford University published a similar study claiming the 'climate and health impacts of natural gas stoves are greater than previously thought.' In the acknowledgments the researchers thanked a staffer from RMI, one of the leading environmental organizations calling for ending the use of residential natural gas, for her 'insights and suggestions.' Like the UCLA report that preceded it, the analysis was based on an environment without ventilation: The authors created an 'airtight portion of the room,' and 'clear plastic sheets were sealed along the ceiling, walls, and floor.'
In The Federalist, Evita Duffy-Alfonso said the threat of a gas stove ban is real and the corporate media is pretending it's not.
"Biden has been able to distort reality quite seamlessly with the help of the corrupt corporate press, the latest example being the recent controversy over his administration’s floated ban on gas stoves," she said. "According to the White House and media, the idea of a gas stove ban is a delusional Republican ‘culture war’ talking point (but at the same time, a totally great idea that should be applauded because gas stoves can be deadly, according to the same media). In truth, a national ban on gas stoves is a real possibility under climate-crazed Democrat leadership, and laws against gas-powered appliances have already been implemented in some parts of the country.
"Since December, commissioner of the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission Richard Trumka Jr. has been pushing to ban gas stoves, calling it 'a real possibility' that could happen quickly with enough public pressure," Duffy-Alfonso wrote. "Meanwhile, left-wing environmental groups have been eagerly producing studies on the 'science' of why gas stoves are hazardous, and Democrat lawmakers are throwing out every talking point from 'gas stoves cause brain damage' to 'gas stoves are racist.'... Gas stove bans are not only conceivable, they already exist. Last summer, the Los Angeles City Council banned most gas appliances, like gas-powered fireplaces, in new residential and commercial construction in the city, and more than 50 other cities and counties in California have reportedly passed similar ordinances."
What the left is saying.
- The left insists a gas stove ban is a right-wing invention, but argues that more regulation would probably be good.
- Some point to the studies showing the dangers of gas stoves and ask why we wouldn't want to regulate them.
- Others suggest this is just the latest in right-wing culture war outrage fantasies.
The Los Angeles Times editorial board said the feds aren't coming for your gas stove, but maybe regulation is a good idea.
"Who could have predicted that kitchen stoves would become the latest tinderbox in the nation’s culture wars?" the board asked. "Of course, no federal officials are going to barge into homes and confiscate stoves, and any regulations the Consumer Product Safety Commission might pursue would apply only to new products anyway... The commission is right to consider regulations. The fact is, there are real, longstanding health concerns about gas stoves. They are used in 35% of U.S. homes and can generate harmful levels of indoor air pollution, especially in homes that lack proper ventilation, such as range hoods that vent to the outside.
"Alarming new findings in a recently published study suggest that more than 12% of childhood asthma cases in the United States can be attributed to the use of gas stoves and that they pose a similar risk to children as being exposed to secondhand smoke," the board wrote. "Previous studies have shown that natural gas stoves, which burn planet-warming methane and a stew of toxic chemicals, generate unhealthful levels of air pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide. They also leak so much that they can push indoor concentrations of cancer-causing benzene to dangerous levels even when they are off. Though more research is needed, regulators should know enough at this point to take action."
In The Guardian, Brian Kahn said "without a doubt" gas stoves are a source of indoor pollution.
"There are two ways gas stoves pollute your home," Kahn said. "The first is the most obvious: when they’re in use. Burning gas creates heat, which causes nitrogen and oxygen to bond among the flames. They combine to create nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, collectively known as NOx, which can irritate the lungs. But that’s not the only compound to worry about. Cooking with gas can also emit carbon monoxide, particulate matter and even formaldehyde. Those all have various deleterious health impacts, and can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
"There’s probably a more insidious form of pollution emanating from your stove. A growing body of research shows gas stoves emit toxic compounds even when not in use. Among the most worrisome is benzene, a carcinogen," Kahn added. "A study by PSE Healthy Energy found benzene in 99% of samples it took in homes in California. Other chemicals discovered included xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene, which can also cause respiratory issues and may cause cancer as well... The PSE Healthy Energy study found that gas stoves can emit as much benzene as a cigarette, making them akin to secondhand smoke."
In MSNBC, James Downie said Republicans "have found their new dumb culture war."
"At this point, I could repeat that no one's coming to take your gas stove. I could point out a few facts in favor of the poor, maligned electric stovetop. While gas stoves offer more precise temperature control than their electric counterparts, they waste more energy and pose a far bigger danger to the planet and public health — especially children's health — than we knew even 10 years ago," he wrote. "But, to twist a favorite right-wing phrase, this was never about facts; this was about feelings. Just over 30 years ago, the Clean Energy Act was easily renewed on bipartisan lines. Since then, the environment has become part of the culture wars. It’s telling that this split happened concurrently with the rise in conservative talk media, with its endless appetite for scare stories of government regulators out to get innocent, hard working Americans.
"Now, 'gas stoves' can be added to a long list of items that conservatives have declared sacred Americana in the face of proposed, or merely rumored, regulation. Remember Donald Trump's rants about water pressure in showerheads and low-flow toilets? Remember howls from the right that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wanted to ban hamburgers? Remember GOP fury about more efficient light bulbs?" Downie wrote. "The good news is that conservatives are only burning themselves. The cause of the gas stove is hardly populist, when gas is more common in cities, blue states and wealthier households. And more broadly, while decades of fearmongering have helped fill conservative airwaves, there's no evidence these fusses move any votes. Republicans can cook up whatever outrage du jour they want. Americans won't be eating it up."
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. If you're a subscriber, you can also leave a comment.
- Conservatives didn't invent any new culture war, they are reacting to a very real regulatory trend.
- This doesn't mean someone is going to come take your gas stove.
- It seems like we need a lot more research before a major policy change.
When I first saw this story percolating, my knee-jerk reaction was to ignore it. The whole thing felt like one of those media-concocted frenzies that was a whole lot about nothing. But as I watched it unfold, I realized it was a great encapsulation of our political divides, the way our corporate press ecosystem covers science, and the way culture wars can distort policy debate. I've started to believe it is a pretty important story.
The divide part is simple: Someone in a progressive administration suggests a burdensome and probably unpopular environmental regulation, and conservatives exaggerate it and get up in arms. It's a story we see a lot these days. This struggle exists in basically all of our politics, and especially politics around environmentalism and health. Most Americans don't like being told what to do or how to take care of their bodies. Soda taxes, fossil fuel bans and vaccines are all obvious touch points.
I can't say I'm immune to this. I love cooking. I love my gas stove. And I absolutely hate electric stoves. The idea of not being able to buy a new gas stove in the future or having them regulated out of cost-effectiveness is genuinely annoying to me, and on that baseline I hate the entire idea and view it as an unnecessary and counterproductive government intervention. Still, if researchers found (with some degree of certainty) that my gas stove is harmful to me or my children, I would really like to know. Yet the findings here have been so skewed by special interests and shoddy reporting that simply getting a reliable answer is really hard.
Part of that is because of the underlying science. A Tangle reader recently suggested the newsletter Sensible Medicine to me, which does a great job of writing about how badly journalists cover scientific studies on a range of issues. As a journalist, and not a scientist, it has been informative. The "science" of the gas stove debate is another great addition to the "we're screwing this up" file. Search engines turn up dozens and dozens of articles with scary headlines about the numerous studies showing the dangers of gas stoves, painting a picture of a scientific consensus and life or death risks.
But that's not an accurate picture. Everley's piece (above) is a great distillation of the poorly designed studies driving much of the narrative, and the many studies that contradict them. The New York Times, often the face of the corporate press, has a much more reasonable and balanced piece on the issue than most of its contemporaries. The upshot? All stoves do emit pollutants, those pollutants are harmful, the health effects of those pollutants are tied in large part to what you're cooking and the quality of your ventilation, and many of them won't cause serious long-term health impacts unless you have pre-existing conditions. Also, the health and environmental differences between gas and electric are negligible in many scenarios.
To make it plain: The Washington Post ran the headline “Gas stove pollution causes 12.7% of childhood asthma, study finds.” Meanwhile, one of the people behind that study said (after a news frenzy) their work "does not assume or estimate a causal relationship" between childhood asthma and natural gas stoves, but "only reports on a population-level reflection of the relative risk given what we know about exposure to the risk factor." The study also plucked about 30 studies from a pool of 300 to make their point.
That is an inexcusable discrepancy of narrative, and just plain poor media coverage. However, it’s the kind of skepticism-free writing that is commonplace in the media’s coverage of science, which is part of why so many people distrust major news outlets.
Then, of course, we had the whole genre of "Republican plebes don't understand science" news stories. Story after story mocking the "Republican meltdown" or the “new culture war” or more Republicans resisting the obvious scientific consensus that doesn't actually exist. Sure, conservatives have brought some of that on themselves after years of ignoring much stronger data around fossil fuels and climate change, but it's tiresome, low-hanging media fruit. It doesn’t exist to articulate a point-of-view to conservatives, but to performatively flay a strawman of conservatives to its readership base.
The reality check: Nobody is going to kick down your door and take your gas stove, just like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn't going to ban hamburgers and Trump's promise that you'd lose water pressure if Biden became president never came to fruition. But, quite obviously, gas stove regulation is increasing across the country and environmentalists clearly have an eye on them. Denying this very obvious fact seems like another dumb exercise in media futility.
Before any big changes, though, they need to do more research. Of course, if we learn over time that something we all thought was innocuous turns out to be dangerous, we’d all be best served by keeping an open mind and learning what we can. But right now, the studies making the headlines are flimsy, and the most reliable looking studies we have still don't pin gas stoves as the main or only culprit for indoor pollution impacts.
Your questions, answered.
Q: So I was wondering: Is there anything you expected to be innocuous and non-controversial that led people to unsubscribe? Is there any discernible pattern in what makes readers (who presumably came here precisely to expand the political viewpoints they consume) storm out?
— Julian from New York City
Tangle: The most obvious pattern is when "my take" does not agree with their own take. I know that might be surprising for an audience specifically looking to expand their political understanding, but it's by far the most common reason someone unsubscribes: You wrote something I strongly disagree with, I can no longer support you.
The controversial writer Freddie deBoer recently wrote an awesome piece about this titled "Be independent! No, not like that." It so well described my opinion that I’m annoyed I didn’t write it myself. Here's an excerpt that resonates with me strongly:
"I’m not talking about just disagreeing here - of course people are free to admire my work in general and forcefully reject some of my opinions. What rankles is thinking that those views are entirely disqualifying while admiring my independence and championing free thinking as a general virtue. 'I value independence when it produces people who believe just the same as I do' is a very strange way to think, a self-defeating way."
The implication here is that if nothing in Tangle or nothing I write in "My take" ever offends or bothers you, then we are probably not producing truly independent and balanced content.
In terms of more innocuous stuff, a few funny examples come to mind. Two religious folks unsubscribed because I wrote "G-d" in the newsletter, thinking I was "censoring" G-d when really I was expressing my faith (and reverence for G-d). Someone once unsubscribed because I used the word "I" too much in "My take." One reader unsubscribed over my use of "marijuana" instead of "cannabis," the former being indicative of my "deeply rooted white supremacy."
One reader unsubscribed when I said I would donate 50% of a week's new subscription revenue to charity. Another unsubscribed when I experimented with emojis in the newsletter. Quite a few readers have unsubscribed over my highlighting of corrections at the top of newsletters, interpreting the practice as some kind of "submission" to "the mob" they seem to think I am scared of.
Those are, literally, just a few that come to mind off the top of my head. Now I think you've inspired me to start tracking them...
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Under the radar.
Tesla has announced a major cut to its electric vehicle prices. The price cuts reflect a growing number of threats to Tesla's dominance in the industry. That, paired with an economic downturn, is forcing them to play defense, Axios reports. Last week, Tesla dropped the prices of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, two of its most popular cars. With tax incentives, a Model 3 Performance could now run for $53,990, down from $62,990. Tesla's market share has recently declined from 79% to 65%. Axios has the story.
Will we see you tomorrow?
Don't forget, every Friday, we release subscribers-only posts to Tangle members. Tomorrow, I plan to write about conspiracy theories. If you're already a Tangle member, feel free to forward the email to friends and families or share it on social media — just ask them to subscribe.
- $840. The amount of the rebate some Americans are eligible for to switch from a gas to electric stove.
- 70%. The percentage of California residents who use gas stoves, the highest of any state, according to an EIA survey.
- 8%. The percentage of Maine and Florida residents with gas stoves, the lowest of any state.
- 79%. The percentage of Americans who cook at least one hot meal a day.
- 18,496. The number of households polled in the EIA survey.
Have a nice day.
Including a death in our "Have a nice day story" may seem a bit odd, but today I'd like to use it as the celebration of a life. Lucile Randon, a French nun believed to be the world's oldest person, died yesterday at the age of 118. She died in her sleep of natural causes. Despite being blind and relying on a wheelchair, the legend of Randon only grew as she took care of other elderly folks who were younger than she was. In 2021, she became famous for being the oldest person to recover from Covid-19. Randon was born when Teddy Roosevelt was president, the same year New York City opened its first subway, and before the introduction of the Ford Model T. You can read more about her remarkable life here.
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