This article was published by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
The shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources like solar and wind is already well underway. Solar panels and wind turbines are being installed to provide electricity. This electricity can be stored in batteries or directly used to power factories, vehicles, and appliances like heating and cooling systems, clothes dryers, stoves, water heaters, and refrigerators. The process of replacing fossil fuel-reliant infrastructure with machines that use electric power from renewable energy sources is often termed “electrification,” and the faster we “electrify everything,” the less carbon pollution we will emit, reducing climate change and health and environmental impacts.
According to data from nonprofit Rewiring America, we have to install 24,000,000 more electrified machines than we are currently on pace to install over the next three years to be on track to meet our climate goals by 2050. It’s an extraordinarily ambitious goal and it’s absolutely possible – but it depends heavily on Americans’ preferences, motivations, and abilities to make the transition, and the marketplace’s ability to respond.
In our most recent nationally representative Climate Change in the American Mind survey (conducted April 18 – May 1, 2023), we collaborated with Rewiring America and the 2035 Initiative at the University of California Santa Barbara to ask Americans whether they would prefer a home with appliances powered by fossil fuels or by electricity, assuming costs and other features were the same (see the chart for full question text). We found that about three in ten (31 per cent) Americans prefer a home in which all major appliances (stove, heating system, water heater, etc.) are powered by electricity and an additional 29 per cent prefer a home in which most major appliances are powered by electricity, but which has a gas stove for cooking. About one in five Americans (21 per cent) said they prefer a home in which most or all major appliances are powered by fossil fuels, such as natural gas, propane, or oil. About one in five Americans (19 per cent) said they have no preference or don’t know.
Taken together, a majority (60 per cent) prefer a home in which all or most major appliances are powered by electricity. But preferences vary across political, racial/ethnic, and geographic groups. Political affiliation is associated with preferences for electric appliances, with Democrats preferring them more often than Republicans. For example, most liberal Democrats (75 per cent) say they prefer an all or mostly electric home, while about half of conservative Republicans (50 per cent) say so. Black respondents (69 per cent) are more likely than Hispanic/Latino (59 per cent) and White respondents (58 per cent) to prefer all or mostly electric homes, whereas rural residents (54 per cent) are somewhat less likely than suburban (61 per cent) and urban (65 per cent) residents to prefer them.
While the gas industry pays Instagram influencers to endorse gas stoves, scientists continue to find evidence of serious health harms from burning methane gas to cook food. As of 2021, fossil fuels power 41 per cent of cooking stoves in US homes.