Vancouver City Council rejects idea to ban natural gas for new homes

Jun 2 2023, 1:36 am

Vancouver City Council’s debate over whether the City of Vancouver should explore banning natural gas connections to new homes for cooking and fireplaces came down to a discussion over whether environmental or cultural considerations should be prioritized.

Cultural considerations were front and centre for the majority makeup of City Council led by the ABC Vancouver party, with their councillors and the mayor expressing opposition to Green Party councillor Adriane Carr’s member motion.

Instead, during Wednesday’s public meeting, City Council approved amendments to the motion moved by ABC councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung; rather than directing City staff to explore a ban, City Council asked for the adoption of the provincial government’s recently announced top step of the BC Zero Carbon Step Code for new homes to align with the province and other jurisdictions.

City staff will also give consideration to “equity impacts that may unintentionally and unfairly affect the city’s cultural and equity-denied groups.”

In response to the changes to her motion, Carr said, “it’s certainly a better amendment than what I was anticipating, but it’s still not going to get us to where we need to go.”

She cited data that shows over 90% of such methane gas is from fracking, with recent studies noting it has more than 80 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide within the first two decades of release. There are also suggestions the use of gas for cooking leads to poor indoor air quality and health risks.

“Scientists are absolutely clear that we have to not allow the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure if we are to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals that we must in order to avoid the absolute most catastrophic elements of climate change and global warming that are happening right now,” continued Carr.

“It’s not going to get us there in terms of where I believe our society has to head in a very short period of time, certainly before 2050.”

Green Party councillor Pete Fry added to the debate by saying natural gas goes beyond methane, as it also contains sulphites and other pollutants.

“In many respects, we are sort of future proofing. I think the evidence and the science is becoming fairly clear that there are harmful particulates in gas that we once referred to as natural gas that go beyond just the methane,” said Fry.

“I think not too far from now, we may see some more prescriptive health-based, not just climate-based, considerations around the use of substances in our homes and indeed.”

ABC councillor Lenny Zhou pivoted the debate into a discussion on the potential cultural impacts to Vancouver’s diverse households, suggesting many different cuisines require an open flame — listing North African, Brazilian, Mexican, South Asian, Korean, Thai, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines.

“I think it’s important to consider the broader cultural implications on different communities in our city. For some communities, I think the tradition of using an open flame for cooking is really significant because without the open flame, the taste is really different. The mastery of these flavours stems from the direct flame and the unique characteristics that natural gas stoves provide,” said Zhou.

“I can only speak for the Chinese cuisine. The Chinese community has been using the open flame to cook their food for tens of thousands of years.”

Mayor Ken Sim suggested there needs to be a consideration that about half of Vancouver’s population is of South Asian or East Asian descent.

“Taking away the ability of individuals of certain cultural groups to perform one of the most basic functions, making their own culturally appropriate foods…. to me, it doesn’t really sit very well,” said the mayor.

“If the only option for, let’s say people of Chinese or South Asian descent, is to enjoy their foods at a restaurant as opposed to their home, I find that incredibly problematic. I’ve cooked on induction stoves and I’ve cooked on gas, and maybe I’m missing something here… but I can’t make that stuff work on an induction stove.”

In response, Carr claims some celebrity chefs have completely addressed the challenges of cooking on an induction stove fuelled by electricity. She asserts these chefs found induction stoves to be a “profoundly better experience” compared to open flames.

“It’s faster, easier to control, and has the same impacts as that flame, only without the emissions of the methane gas,” said Carr.

ABC councillor Brian Montague quipped that if he cannot use gas for his barbeque, his next fuel of choice would be to light up a coal briquette. “I don’t know how much better for the environment that would be,” said Montague.

“One of the things I wanted to highlight was just this government overreach and scope creep — telling people what they can do in their own homes, [and] how they cook their own food. I think we start to dive into places where government shouldn’t be,” he continued.

Montague suggested the attempt to limit the ways food can be cooked to reduce emissions is “splitting hairs,” and said he would rather see the municipal government focus on planting trees, splitting combined sewers, and waste management.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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