There is something primal about cooking over a flame, which is why many home cooks prize their gas stovetops.

But there is a growing body of evidence that it may be time to put our primal urges behind us.

Gas stoves burn fossil fuels, contributing about 1 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, a small but significant amount of our contribution to global climate change, according to a study published last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Over a 20-year period, the combined climate impact of the 40 million gas stoves would equal what would be expected to come from  the annual emissions of 500,000 cars.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. The study found that gas stoves are bad not only for the planet, but also for the people who use them, creating indoor air pollution that would be illegal if it were produced by an industrial facility.

Gas stoves release methane and nitrogen dioxide, an irritant that can aggravate asthma and contribute to developing the condition. What the researchers found was that the flame does not consume all of the gas released when the burner is on, and the burners release gas before the flame catches after they are turned on. But about three-quarters of the gases are emitted, the researchers say, when the stove is turned off, through various leaky connections.

Some of the indoor air quality issues (but not the climate impact) can be mitigated with better ventilation, but before people invest in exhaust fans, they should consider a better option. Modern induction stovetops – electric burners that use magnets to heat pans – don’t leak any greenhouse gases, and they perform as well as gas stoves, providing more power and sensitive heat control as gas, although without the fascination of a flame.

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New York City and other locations have prohibited gas hookups for all new buildings starting next year, but Maine probably doesn’t need to go that far yet.

The good news about climate change is that we don’t need to invent any new technology to deal with it, or sacrifice either our comfort or finances.

On an individual level, all we need to do is to decide that the internal combustion-powered cars and gas-powered appliances that we own now are the last ones we will ever own. On a political level, we need to help consumers make those changes through programs like the incentives for electric vehicles and heat pumps.

Eventually, we will need to generate more electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind power, while modernizing the electric grid.

We need to do all of this fairly quickly – the next decade is crucial – but it doesn’t have to happen all at once.

In the near future, property owners should think twice about putting in a new gas stove when they replace an appliance. As more homes and commercial buildings transition from gas for space and water heating to meet the state’s climate goals, gas will be harder to get. In addition to being bad for the climate and indoor environment, operating that gas stove may also end up being extremely expensive.

We all need to be ready to take the small steps that will make a difference. One of the easiest must be that we stop cooking with gas.


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