‘The interesting thing about the Green New Deal,” admitted Saikat Chakrabarti, the former chief of staff to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.” It was, in fact, “a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” He wasn’t kidding.

The Green New Deal’s literature called for mobilizing “every aspect of American society” to eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions from “every sector of the economy.” It called for upgrades and retrofits to “every building in America,” “charging stations everywhere,” the shuttering of “every” fossil-fuel or nuclear power plant, the forced obsolescence of “every combustion-engine vehicle.” Its architects’ ambitions knew no limits. And while the Green New Deal may be dead, the universalism to which its advocates adhered is very much alive.

Armed with unchecked self-confidence and possessed of an abiding faith in the idea that you must be coerced into altruism, the activists seem to be coming for almost everything you own. In the process, they are waging a crusade against convenience, an assault on comparative advantage, and a war on things that work.

Securing the fossil-fuel-free future that President Joe Biden imagines for us sometime in the 2030s will not be a pain-free proposition — at least that appears to be the conceit of the more radical wing of the environmentalist Left. The scale of the challenge, as they see it, demands sacrifice from us all. One of their most controversial moves is to give up natural-gas-powered appliances, your gas kitchen range foremost among them.

The relentless lobbying of local governments to forbid natural-gas hookups in new buildings had already succeeded in a number of municipalities when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) sought public comment earlier this year on a proposal to impose a ban nationwide. By then, California had announced its own ban, to begin in the next decade, on the sale of new natural-gas-powered appliances, and New York State was set to follow suit.

The logic of this proscription was twofold. First, it was justified by dubious research, one example of which suggested that cooking with gas in an “airtight” room sealed by “clear plastic sheets” can cause adverse health effects over the long term. It is, indeed, best to avoid preparing meals in a level-four biocontainment facility. Other studies purporting to prove that gas-stove pollution increases the risk of childhood asthma screened out contradictory findings or, as the American Gas Association later observed, “conducted no measurements or tests based on real-life appliance usage.” Ultimately, Rocky Mountain Institute manager Brady Seals admitted to the Washington Examiner that his organization’s highly publicized summary of past studies, which concluded that gas stoves were responsible for a 12.7 percent increase in asthma among kids, “does not assume or estimate a causal relationship.” The second, more honest rationale concerned a general desire to rid the world of the roughly 13 percent of U.S.-produced heat-trapping emissions that residential and commercial structures contribute. Of course, your own preference plays no role in the bureaucrats’ deliberations. “Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” CPSC commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. warned.

Since they hoped to conserve the status quo, those who objected to this sweeping proposal were summarily dismissed as blinkered promoters of philosophical conservatism. The pro-gas-stove dissidents were accused of either succumbing to a right-wing fever dream or nefariously contriving what Axios called “a new culture war.” But the environmentalists failed to account for one reason people do not wish to replace their gas range with an electric one: The first appliance does things the second cannot.

If your only goal in the kitchen is to get something very hot as fast as possible, both gas and electric ranges will do the job. But what if you want to regulate the temperature of your range? What if you set out to sauté, flambé, braise, or char? What if your cultural affinities involve the use of round-bottom cooking pots such as woks, or if tradition requires an open flame? What if you just appreciate those styles of cuisine and do not reside in an urban enclave where they are an Uber Eats order away? Even the executors of gas-stove bans recognize the validity of at least some of these arguments, or else the city of Palo Alto, Calif., wouldn’t have provided José Andrés’s restaurant with an exemption. Where else will Silicon Valley get its paella valenciana?

Or what if you value, you know, value? In most American states, natural-gas appliances cost between 10 and 30 percent less to operate on a regular basis than electric alternatives. What if you can’t afford to switch to the induction ranges — which can cost 60 percent more than gas stovetops — proposed by many anti-gas activists?

The offhand rejection of these arguments set the stage for a real pushback from the public. A cacophonous outcry during the commission’s open-inquiry period drowned out the activists and scuttled its initiative — at least on the national scale. But the effort to relegate natural-gas-powered appliances to history’s ash heap persists in places such as New York, where Governor Kathy Hochul’s spokeswoman bragged that the ban on new natural-gas hookups would “not have any loopholes.” And, she added, “there will not be any option for municipalities to opt out.”

A policy that bans natural-gas hookups in new residential construction suggests that more appliances than just gas stoves have found themselves in the bureaucrats’ crosshairs. Gas furnaces and gas water heaters, too, would become things of the past if the meddlers had their way. Indeed, that is the plan in some of America’s bluest states.

There are pros and cons to both gas and electric heating units. Despite the slower recovery times (e.g., how long it takes for your shower to get hot and stay hot) and higher average costs of electric heating, some consumers may prefer it. Others may not. But individual preference should play no role here, according to the green activists, because climate-friendly alternatives are more ethical.

And it’s not just about how you cook your food or stay warm. Radicals who resent how you live your life behind closed doors are coming for your air conditioner, too. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently published a proposed rule designed to prohibit hydrofluoro-carbons (HFCs) with significant global-warming potential (GWP) over 100 years in new air-conditioning and refrigeration systems. This alphabet soup of initialisms complicates much of the literature on the initiative, perhaps by design. Put simply, the rule increases the cost of refrigerants, and those costs are passed on to the consumer. Even the anticipation of that increase has already made it more expensive to install new climate-control units. Here, too, society’s green engineers have a ready alternative for apprehensive consumers: heat pumps.

As the name suggests, these devices cool more efficiently than they heat, particularly in climates where the temperature dips below freezing. (There, you’ll need a “hybrid” heat pump, which includes a conventional furnace.) Since heat pumps don’t get to take a season off, they need more maintenance and have a shorter life span. But don’t worry, the activists insist. The energy savings you’ll eventually realize may offset some of the cost of having to replace your HVAC system more often.

“Efficiency” has become a euphemism to laud an appliance that uses fewer inputs relative to its outputs rather than shorthand for doing the job as effectively as possible. We see the new emphasis, for instance, in the Biden Energy Department’s proposal to improve the “efficiency” of dishwashers: According to Bloomberg’s reporting, dishwashers of the near future will be required to “use 27% less power and 34% less water — no more than 3.3 gallons during their normal, default cycles.”

As National Review’s Dominic Pino observed by comparing the flow rate of kitchen sinks (1.5 to 2 gallons per minute) with that of modern dishwashers (fewer than 4 gallons per cycle), the likely effect of this rule would be to compel consumers to use more water by spending more time pre-washing their dishes. Moreover, the new rule would be layered atop existing federal efficiency standards that have already limited the utility of your dishwasher. Consumers have noticed. “For the love of all that is holy, help us make dishwashers work right again,” read a plea quoted in a 2019 Wall Street Journal item on the plague of “efficiency.”

To home heating and cooling, and cooking and cleaning, add yard work. Time is money, and you’ll be devoting a lot more of both to your lawn if the assault on efficacious appliances succeeds.

“Small gas engines” — such as those in lawn mowers and blowers — “are not only bad for our environment and contributing to our climate crisis,” California assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez declared in 2021. “They can cause asthma and other health issues for workers who use them. It’s time we phased out these super-polluters and help small land-scaping businesses transition to cleaner alternatives.” She made these comments to justify legislation she had co-sponsored that would ban the sale of gasoline-powered lawn equipment. Now signed into law, the prohibition will take effect in January 2024. Dark-blue states including New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are considering similar legislation, and a combustion-engine-free future is already the reality in many municipalities.

The dubious environmentalist argument against gas-powered equipment and tools is that they harm the climate even more than passenger vehicles do. Using a combustion-driven leaf blower produces emissions equivalent to “driving from L.A. to Denver in a 2017 Toyota Camry,” said the mayor of San Anselmo, Calif., defending her city’s ban on certain landscaping equipment. That is an improvement on a 2011 estimate by the car-shopping experts at Edmunds, one of whom found that doing “a half-hour of yard work with this two-stroke leaf blower” produces the emissions equivalent of driving a pickup truck “from Northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska.”

But scratch the surface of the case against noisy, smoky lawn-care equipment and you’ll often find that what their opponents really don’t like is the effect on their quality of life.

The machines intrude upon “the lovely sounds of spring, summer, and fall,” according to USA Today contributor Ellie Gruber. They kick up “disease-causing mold and fecal matter” at “200 miles per hour,” per the editorial writers at the Maryland Daily Record. They menace the already marginalized migrant laborers who landscape the locals’ yards “with leaf blowers just inches from their lungs and ears,” the author Michael Shapiro told the California paper the Press Democrat. Insisting that his neighbors “use rakes” instead, the author exposed the pretextual nature of his concern for yard workers. Suddenly, the neighborhood was once again a placid place “where we could hear ourselves think, listen to birds sing and enjoy the sound of our neighbors playing Mozart.”

Adopting alternatives to gasoline-powered tools involves only the “simplicity and speed of personal decision,” Montclair, N.J.–based opinion writer Jessica Stolzberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed. That decision demands nothing more of you than trashing the arsenal of antiquated mowers, blowers, and string trimmers in your garage and replacing them with electric alternatives.

By now, the obstacles to widespread adoption of such alternatives are familiar. Lawn equipment powered by lithium-ion batteries is more expensive to purchase than gas-powered versions, though the minimal maintenance requirements might offset some of the higher purchase price associated with electric implements. Electric equipment pollutes less, though the environmental benefits it provides are debatable given the destructive strip-mining practices associated with the production of these batteries. But, from the consumer’s perspective, cost–benefit analyses sidestep the most important consideration: Electric landscaping equipment is just not as powerful as gas-powered tools.

Electric push mowers and leaf blowers will clear a quarter-acre suburban plot just fine. But if you live anywhere beyond the exurban radius around the major metropolitan areas where America’s tastemakers reside, chances are that you’re sitting on more mowable acreage than that. An electric-only future would compel a property’s caretakers to devote vastly more time, energy, and resources to a job that gasoline-fueled equipment can mop up on a Saturday morning.

The attack on effective appliances does occasionally encounter a hard target, with pro-ban activists and their critics fighting decades-long stalemated battles over contested terrain. In 2007, George W. Bush signed a law designed to gradually phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Barack Obama accelerated the phase-out by tightening efficiency standards via regulatory mechanisms. In 2019, however, the Trump administration rolled those requirements back, giving incandescent bulbs a new lease on life. But in 2022, Joe Biden’s Department of Energy reimposed Obama-era lumens-per-watt standards designed to finally bury the filament bulb.

The effort to snuff out incandescent lights for good has continued despite the clear preferences of consumers, particularly low-income Americans. In 2018, University of Michigan researchers found that high-efficiency LED light bulbs “are more expensive and less available in high-poverty urban areas than in more affluent locations” and that the cost to upgrade “was twice as high in the highest-poverty areas.” Not only is the expense a burden; some LED adopters aren’t satisfied with the quality of light the new bulbs produce.

“Obviously enough, through millennia of human existence, the point of reference for artificial illumination was firelight or lamplight,” author and columnist Tom Scocca wrote for New York magazine. There is simply no replacement for “that ineffable and as yet irreplaceable glow” produced by incandescent bulbs. But beginning in August, with the exception of industrial applications like heat lamps, the government will formally retire Thomas Edison’s design. You will be able to purchase only LED lights — for your own good, of course.

The irrepressible self-righteousness of America’s technocratic social engineers may know no limits, but politicians who are responsible to voters just might learn from some of the green movement’s failed experiments. Take the State of New Jersey’s woeful example. In 2022, the Garden State implemented a policy so profoundly foolish that most residents probably doubted it would ever go into effect: an outright ban on single-use packaging — including food containers, plastic shopping bags, and even paper bags — in big-box and grocery stores.

Advocates of this policy routinely present circular logic by insisting that the success of their proscription can be measured in the number of people who comply with it. Yes, banning bags is an effective way to ban bags. But by any other measure, the switch makes little sense.

The alleged environmental benefits are indefinable. Scuttling plastic bags forces consumers to purchase and tote around reusable shopping bags, which require more energy and resources to produce (one European estimate found that reusable bags must be reused 7,100 times before they compete with plastic bags’ carbon footprint) and are less sanitary (as some might recall from the pandemic). The practical impact of the ban was so pronounced for disabled and low-income residents and the charities that serve them that the state baked into the law loopholes that temporarily allowed certain institutions to avoid complying with it.

The only observable effect of the ban has been to make daily life marginally more expensive and noticeably more annoying for New Jersey residents. The same might be said of far-more-widespread (but ever so gradually disappearing) restrictions on plastic straws. Straw restrictions — which, I kid you not, were conceived in response to a 2015 video shot by a Texas A&M scientist of a sea turtle struggling to dislodge a straw from its nostril — quickly made disposable plastic tubes into sought-after pieces of contraband.

Hoarding plastic straws became the preoccupation of what the New York Times derisively deemed “die-hards.” The reactionaries were admonished for refusing to adopt the plastic straw’s ready replacement: the paper straw, which functions for all of ten minutes before dissolving into a wash of particulates that gluts your drink and coats your mouth.

These campaigns against contrivances that improve the quality of daily life are not justified by clear environmental or material benefits. They are costly impositions on the time and resources of everyday Americans — downsides that their advocates apparently don’t worry about. If they find any inconvenience in their preferences, they subordinate that concern to their ideological goals.

As consumers, they have that right. But the policies they support force a lifestyle brand on everyone else and display contempt for all who disagree. By itself, an electric range, a heat pump, an ugly LED bulb, or a paper straw is a minor irritation. In a mandated aggregate, they look like a society-wide assault on the dignity of personal choice. Activists, like-minded bureaucrats, and their allies in elected office are, in the name of climate change, waging war against products and conventions that make everyday life work. For the targets of their hostility, they would substitute alternatives that either perform less effectively or demand more of your time and money. And you’re expected to bear this burden indefinitely. Or at least until you communicate your displeasure in no uncertain terms at the ballot box.

hero news image

The War on Things That Work: Read NR’s cover story

Like your stove, your dishwasher, your lawn mower? Too ... READ MORE


national review

Follow Us & Share

19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701,
New York, NY, 10036, USA
Your Preferences | Unsubscribe | Privacy
View this e-mail in your browser.