Viewpoint: One year, 15 building codes, and a massive upwelling of community support to kick gas
When thousands of the world’s leading scientists are all saying the same thing, “The Climate Crisis is serious, and we need rapid and bold action to ensure a climate safe future,” how do you respond? You look at the biggest root cause of the Climate Crisis: burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, diesel and gasoline.
But there’s another fossil fuel that pretends to be cleaner: natural gas. Over the last year, a longtime movement to get off natural gas – or “kick gas” – became a local organized effort with the creation of the Campaign for Fossil Free Buildings in Silicon Valley.
The Campaign started with a gathering of climate and environmental leaders from San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties in March 2019. Since then, over 100 people have been working together, testifying at City Council hearings, meeting with city leaders, and organizing in communities.
The Campaign helped 14 cities take action: Brisbane, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Saratoga, San Jose and the City of San Mateo all have “Reach Code” clean energy policies or prohibitions on gas use in new construction.
On February 25, San Mateo County joined those cities with one of the strongest reach codes that requires new homes and buildings to be fossil free.
Cities are acting to phase out gas from new homes and buildings because it’s now much cheaper to build with electric heaters and appliances, entirely avoiding gas pipes, meters and carbon monoxide sensors. Over the past decade the cost of electric heating and appliances has come down, and the technology has surpassed gas to be five times more efficient than top-of-the-line gas products.
The Campaign for Fossil Free Buildings has 30 member groups working to phase out fossil fuels from all buildings in Silicon Valley to help meet climate goals. We are focused on replacing natural gas with clean electric power that is now almost exclusively carbon-free. Burning gas in homes and buildings contributes to more than one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions (it’s the second largest source of GHGs behind transportation).
Burning gas indoors also creates air pollution that can be lethal, leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. The stew of pollutants from gas stoves alone creates pollution levels inside a kitchen that would be illegal if measured outdoors (for nitrogen dioxide). Studies have found serious health impacts from that pollution, showing that cooks with gas stoves have double the odds of lung and heart disease and triple the use of asthma medication, compared to people cooking on electric stoves.
The Massachusetts Medical Society released a warning of the environmental and health hazards of natural gas, much of which comes from fracking (December 4, 2019). The physicians “recommend that new residential or commercial gas hookups not be permitted, new gas appliances be removed from the market,…” and several other actions.
Our Campaign is grateful to the physicians who stand up for public health, to the clean energy experts at Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy who have supported the “reach codes,” and to the dozens of City Council members and staff who have embraced policies to avoid gas in new construction. They are the leaders who will create healthy, resilient communities that ensure a climate safe future for today’s youth.
In 2020 we’re inviting more cities and counties to prohibit gas in new construction, and we’re working with partners to help home and building owners convert to safer, cleaner and carbon-free heating and appliances. Stove by stove, heater by heater, clean electric will come to pass. It’s time to end our fossil fuel dependency. Who wants to join us in kicking gas?