In 2019 the city council in Berkeley, California made the unprecedented move of banning natural gas hookups in most new building construction. Other cities in the US and Europe are also making similar moves.
It’s interesting to think that for many years, natural gas was positioned by the energy industry as a cleaner alternative to coal. And while that’s true, studies by the U.S. government show that a third of all carbon emissions in the U.S. come from natural gas.
Much of that is used to produce electricity in turbines or to heat homes with half of all homes in the U.S. using natural gas for heating and cooking, with 180 million people and 6 million businesses relying on this type of fossil fuel, according to research.
Since buildings use such large amounts of energy, they are being viewed by more and more governments as a big part of any solution to tackle climate change.
With increasing concern for climate change, governments are taking action. Just over the last two years, around 40 California towns and cities have banned gas hookups in new construction, following in the footsteps of the progressively-run city of Berkeley in 2019.
When Berkely passed the unprecedented policy, Councilwoman Kate Harrison said,. “We looked at where our emissions were coming from and found that natural gas in buildings played a significant role,” adding that those emissions accounted for 37 percent of the city’s total. “This is an area we can tackle,” Harrison said.
According to the United Nations Environment Program, buildings account for nearly 30 percent of all energy-related CO2 emissions globally.
Some projections suggest that building emissions could double or triple by 2050 if concerted efforts to change building codes aren’t introduced and enforced.
Emissions from natural gas add about 600 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year, says Mike Henchen, who specializes in decarbonization at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. Natural gas is a slightly better alternative compared to gas or oil, he says, but pivoting to electricity could drop emissions to zero.
“There [are] some advantages compared to diesel fuel in a truck or compared to coal at a power plant,” said Mike Henchen, who specializes in decarbonization at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute in a recent interview with NPR, adding that. “at the end of the day, natural gas is contributing significant carbon pollution that’s driving climate change.”
That goes for our kitchens, too. For at-home chefs, only one in three households in the U.S. cooks with gas, Henchen says.
Alternatives for a Greener Planet
Experts have noted that there are great greener alternatives such as electric induction cooktops can, which give both professional and at-home cooks the same level of control over the heat and boil water more quickly than gas, said Henchman.
He ads that getting people to change their preferences after using traditional cooking methods for so long will take time.
“There’s research out there that kids who live in a home with a gas stove are more likely to experience asthma,” Henchman told NPR. “And I think people are becoming more aware that burning a fuel in the middle of your kitchen is harmful and produces pollution inside your house.”