Why do culture wars start, and whose fault is it when they do? You may have noticed how quickly gas stoves became a political fault line this month: One U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner announced his agency was mulling the mounting evidence that gas stoves are poisoning people, and suddenly a slew of Republicans (and, naturally, Democrats’ own coal baron, Joe Manchin) started tweeting that Joe Biden could pry gas stoves from their cold, dead hands. Overcooking steak on a gas range and posting it to Twitter became a thing to “own the libs.”
This all misses the point, as TNR columnist Liza Featherstone wrote this week, since even a ban on gas stoves (which is not actually happening) wouldn’t result in existing devices being ripped from the walls. Regardless, the point of gas stove regulation is to protect people who don’t want to be poisoned in their homes, not to rob people of their right to get asthma and cancer. In other words: This is really a tenants’ rights issue, and it has nothing to do with the affluent homeowners who seem to have taken deep offense that a government official would dare cut through the decades of advertising that have convinced people that gas stoves are the best (they’re not).
But it’s worth noting that there are a lot of poisonous household products that don’t get this kind of crazed treatment. Earlier this month, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published research from government scientists finding that study participants with high levels of glyphosate—an herbicide found in Roundup weed killer, among many others—in their urine tended to also have signs of oxidative stress, which is an indicator for the possible development of cancer. And this is after the Centers for Disease Control found, last year, that 80 percent of urine samples taken from a representative group of Americans contained measurable amounts of this herbicide. But we have yet to see Tucker Carlson spraying Roundup in his face on live TV to protest hypothetical government overreach. (On Tuesday, the FDA proposed extremely lax limits for the amount of lead companies can include in baby foods. Can we expect some prominent conservative to shovel paint into a toddler’s mouth while screaming, “Take that, AOC!”? I doubt it.)
In seeking to understand why some issues turn into culture wars while others don’t, a lot of people adopt a blame-the-messenger stance; in other words, they blame the activists and politicians trying to alert society to a problem for doing so in an off-putting fashion. This, for example, was the theme of a recent Politico piece suggesting that the United States could pass better climate policy if climate policy weren’t being associated with Democrats, whom voters “view with suspicion.” It was also the thrust of Pamela Paul’s New York Times column seeming to blame vegans for politicizing food.
One problem with this thesis, of course, is that it doesn’t provide much of a model for social change: Asking whistleblowers never to upset people probably isn’t realistic. Moreover, as you’ll read in further coverage at Apocalypse Soon this spring, it’s usually inaccurate to blame activists for these backlashes. When you really look at which issues become culture wars and who benefits, the culprit is rarely, if ever, the moralizing do-gooder caricatured on Fox News every evening.
Massachusetts legislators are proposing a $300 million Zero Carbon Renovation Fund to help schools, low-income housing, and other municipal buildings swap out fossil fuel–based heating and appliances for electric ones, improve insulation, and more.
Norway announced this week that it will offer a record number of fossil fuel exploration blocks (as these delineated territories are called) in the Arctic.
Stat of the Week
A new study in The Lancet finds that implementing the changes to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions—reducing air pollution, modifying diets, etc.—in the United Kingdom would reduce premature deaths and increase public health, resulting in over two million extra years of life nationwide. Read the full study here.
Elsewhere in the Ecosystem
You may remember reports of the mass exodus that took place from the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump. Unfortunately, the agency hasn’t recovered. And the consequences could be severe, Lisa Friedman reports, when it comes to finalizing regulations needed to carry out the Biden administration’s climate and environmental goals:
The new rules have to be enacted within the next 18 months—lightning speed in the regulatory world—or they could be overturned by a new Congress or administration.
The regulations are already delayed months past E.P.A.’s own self-imposed deadlines, raising concerns from supporters in Congress and environmental groups. “It’s very fair to say we are not where we hoped we’d be,” said Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents most state and local air regulators.
This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.