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Induction, public policy and sources

A reader responded to a recent post where I talked about induction cooktops.

The post wasn’t promoting the cooktops, it was making a point about how marketers in some industries follow a similar pattern. I pointed out that cigarettes, diamonds and gas stoves were all marketed to the public in similar ways, and that they all faced down criticism in certain ways. I don’t think that’s controversial, just overlooked. The links in that post point to useful narratives on this topic.

But, if the example I’m using is actually something dangerous, then, he pointed out, I have a duty to explain that, and to highlight the costs associated with switching. Unlike cigarettes, we’re not talking about simply not smoking–most modern living requires cooking on either gas or electric heat, so it’s an open question that has public policy implications. After all, everyone eats.

The two objections he raised were EMF radiation and the reliability of the electrical grid.

Induction cooktops use electromagnetism to heat up the molecules in cast iron and other types of pots. That’s why the cooktops don’t get hot when there is no pot, and why they don’t work on aluminum.

People who suffer from exposure to EMF don’t have an easy time of it. And the amount of EMF continues to increase. Many engineers and doctors are skeptical that it presents a health problem, but it’s definitely possible to find people who disagree. As far as I can tell, though, there’s agreement that EMF decreases quickly with distance. That’s Gauss’s law. As a result, a device held to your head has a very different impact on our well being than the same device even a few feet away. This video from an EMF safety advocate makes that very clear.

The public health implications seem straightforward, then. The gas produced by a typical stove is released throughout the home and to the atmosphere the whole time it’s on, and also, thanks to small leaks, even when it’s off, not to mention in the pipes that travel thousands of miles to get to your home. When the gas leaves the house, it has a non-trivial impact on our climate as well. On the other hand, even if we accept the warnings about EMF, it decreases quickly with distance, becoming almost unmeasurable once you’re a few feet away.

Of course, if one is sensitive to exposure to EMF, the alternative is to simply have a traditional electric stove.

The second objection is about the world’s ailing electrical grid. As we electrify our cars, our heat and other services, the system that brings us electricity is having difficulty keeping up. The good news is that locally generated solar and wind should make a dent in this problem, but the real issue here is whether or not a shift from gas to induction will be unmanageable.

The thing is, electrical cooking appliances account for less than 1% of a home’s energy use. And a cooktop is used, on average, for a few minutes a day. Unlike the load of, say, home charging an electric car, it’s difficult to make the case that our grid will falter from more people using electric cooktops.

In researching this page, I looked at hundreds of web pages, and most of what I discovered matched my original point: defending the status quo is a pattern that’s followed again and again. The challenge of public health changes isn’t the public health part, it’s the changes part. It’s hard for me to imagine that if gas stoves or gasoline powered cars were invented today that they’d have any chance at all of being accepted.