In the first blog of our “Surging Forward” series, we shared why electrifying homes and buildings is CAC’s next big fight to protect our climate and communities. Electrifying is urgent because it will help us kick dirty methane gas out of our lives, eliminating its threats to our health and climate. That’s why we can’t delay on the path to #electrifyeverything.
The Urgency of This Moment
Most people don’t know that more than 90% of the “natural” gas used in homes for cooking, heating and cooling rooms, drying clothes, and heating water is methane—a dangerous greenhouse gas. Gas appliances warm the planet by leaking unburned methane into the air and creating carbon dioxide when methane is burned as a fuel.
Compared to carbon dioxide, methane’s global warming potential is about 86 times as great over a 20-year period and at least 25 times as great a century after its release.
Acting NOW to eliminate methane is key to a climate-safe future and clean air for everyone. Despite this urgent warning, the consumption of methane gas is on the rise in California homes and buildings. Instead of cutting methane emissions, they have jumped by 17.8 percent in homes since 2014 and increased by19.8 percent in the industrial sector since 2009. We are going in the wrong direction.
If we are going to stop the climate crisis, we cannot afford to build any more buildings or buy new machines that use gas as fuel, and we must help existing homes replace gas appliances with electric appliances.
Methane Gas is A Public Health Disaster
Fossil fuels have polluted our communities and caused life-threatening health issues since we first started burning them for cooking, heating, and energy. Methane gas releases toxic pollution into the air, making it harder to breathe. It is linked to respiratory illness (like asthma), heart disease, and even premature death.
A child living in a home with gas cooking faces a comparable risk of asthma to a child living with household cigarette smoke. - Australian Climate Council
A comprehensive study found that immediately replacing all of California’s residential gas appliances with zero emission electric options would improve air quality enough to save 354 lives every year and result in 800 fewer cases of bronchitis annually.
These health impacts disproportionately burden Black and Brown Americans who, due to a long history of systemic racism and discriminatory policies in the U.S. like redlining, are more likely to live in communities with heavy pollution. Because of environmental racism, communities of color have significantly higher asthma rates. Continued exposure to methane gas in homes and buildings worsens these health disparities.
Compounding Inequities in Homes
The risks from gas don’t go away when we turn off our stoves. Research has shown that more than 75% of methane emissions occur while stoves are off because gas fittings, stove connections, and in-house gas lines leak.
Removing methane gas is an urgent environmental justice issue because methane gas pollution tends to be highest in communities disproportionately burdened with pollution from other sources. Residents in communities of concern often live in smaller homes with less ventilation and older, leak-prone appliances.
Renters are especially vulnerable because they have little to no choice over household appliances and maintenance. Families who rent may already face environmental and chemical pollution because of low-quality housing stock, such as mold, pests, lead, and asbestos. In areas where cold weather is common, many families are forced to use their gas range to heat their homes, causing indoor air pollution to skyrocket.
In Southern California, electrification will be a key part of our resiliency toolkit in a warming climate. Improving access to highly efficient electric appliances like heat pumps can ensure people have access to life-saving air conditioning during extreme heat and provide safer, more reliable heating options.
Electrification alone cannot solve all the environmental injustices that communities of concern face in their homes. So, as we retrofit homes to make them all-electric, we also must address any health and safety violations that residents experience. And retrofits must be paired with strong tenant protection policies that keep our neighbors in their homes.
The Solutions Must Be Community-Driven
There is a lot at stake as we fight to remove methane gas from our homes and buildings. While the path to electrify new construction is more straightforward, electrifying existing buildings is much more complex and must be community-driven. Many cities are beginning to develop equitable electrification programs that address affordability, access, justice, habitability, and safety as homes are electrified.
If we want electrification to be equitable, we can’t do it in a top-down way. Instead, we must work to engage communities and empower them to determine their own priorities to improve their quality of life. A pilot project from California’s San Joaquin Valley led by the trusted community organization Self-Help Enterprises, demonstrated that when they have “technical support, time, and access, community members can decide the best ways to overcome the challenges they see.”
San Diego and Orange Counties must prioritize meaningful, culturally-relevant community engagement as we take action to decarbonize our future.
Removing Barriers to Electrification
As of March 2022, nearly a quarter of households in SDG&E service territory had missed payment deadlines. Gas prices continue to soar, hitting low-income households the hardest. These households also face considerable economic barriers to electrifying.
Upgrading to efficient, electric appliances can help households in working-class communities of color save money, but that will only happen if governments prioritize these homes for electrification. Our cities must harness federal, state, and local funding to establish targeted programs that cover the full costs of electrification for disadvantaged communities to ensure they aren’t stuck with expensive, aging gas infrastructure or displaced from their homes.
San Diego (and Every Other City) Can’t Hit Climate Goals Without Electrifying
Building electrification is the central and most important emission reduction strategy in the City of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan update. According to a report by the City’s Office of the Independent Budget Analyst, phasing out natural gas from 90% of existing buildings by 2035 “is potentially the most consequential commitment of CAP 2.0.”.
That means a lot is weighing on this—not only to protect our climate but to do it equitably while improving our comfort and safety. With so many lives on the line, the consequences of inaction are too serious to ignore, and we must start now.