Anyone who has ever renovated a kitchen knows that it is an exciting series of choices. What type of countertops and cabinets? What color of paint? Then there’s lighting and appliances. The multitude of options is a benefit, not a bug. I should know, I am living this in real time as our family remodels our kitchen.
When it came time to buy a new stove, my mind was made up. Growing up in Oklahoma, natural gas is abundant and built into your DNA. Plus, natural gas for the longest time has simply proven to be better for cooking. It boils water fast, works when the electricity is out, and many people like the rugged look of the burners. So it was no use showing us anything else.
But then the salesman showed my wife and me the new innovation of electric induction technology that boils water in less than sixty seconds, is easy to clean, and is safe for kids and grandkids. Boiling water that fast was a gamechanger. We couldn’t believe it, but we were suddenly convinced to buy an electric, not gas, stove.
My family’s decision to buy an electric induction stove was driven by our preferences and the ability to choose the best option for us, not because the government said so.
The economy or the climate? Why not both?
Subscribe for ideas that support the environment and the people.
Consumer choice and empowerment has allowed America’s free enterprise system to thrive. Consumer choice encourages innovation, research and development, and allocation of resources. To drive technological, economic, and energy progress policymakers must remember this and unlock ways to empower consumers.
Unfortunately, too many people hope to “improve” our choices by taking them away. When Sen. Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2015, he explained his philosophy like this: “You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems.”
Increasingly government bureaucrats are beginning to share the Sanders philosophy of reducing consumer choice—most notably by banning gas-powered stoves and ranges. New York state, for instance, passed a budget this year that would mandate all-electric heating and cooking in new buildings shorter than seven stories by 2026, and in buildings taller than seven stories by 2029.
Not only do bans like this limit choice and discourage innovation, but they are also costly to consumers. In Washington State, where a similar ban has been proposed, electric mandates would increase construction costs by an average of $6,000. Switching water heaters to run on electricity rather than natural gas would add another $1,500 to building costs. Conservatives in Congress are pushing back on this overreach. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK) recently introduced the Natural Gas Appliances Standards (GAS) Act which would prevent the Department of Energy from implementing rules that would eliminate the use of gas stoves, water heaters, and furnaces.
These bans also ignore the historic success of consumer choice and free-market innovation in driving technological progress.
Tesla, one of the first major players in the EV market, offered consumers a high-end, all-electric option with zero tailpipe emissions. It succeeded not because of a government mandate, but because it created an innovation that consumers wanted to buy.
Now, electric car technology is everywhere, and Tesla is losing market share to traditional manufacturers including Ford and GM. Watch prices come down and efficiency improve because of competition in the market.
It’s also important that “efficiency” does not mean “does not work as well.” Efficiency needs to mean “the product does what I need it to do while using fewer resources.” Our kitchen’s induction range meets this definition, which is why we opted for it.
For the world to move toward cleaner energy sources that are reliable and affordable, we don’t need the government to limit our choices. When the government picks winners, consumers and taxpayers lose. What we need is more consumer choice, not less. That will bring prices down for cleaner energy sources and innovations, creating a virtuous innovation cycle that’s good for people and the planet.
The United States can lead the way into a cleaner energy future, but only if we put consumers, not government bureaucrats, in charge. If a conservative from Oklahoma can opt for an electric range over natural gas, then policymakers should unleash American innovation and see what happens when consumers have more and better choices.
I’ll bet on freedom to innovate over mandates every time.