Psychology Today describes “gaslighting” as insidious manipulation and “psychological control” wielded over victims who are “fed false information,” causing them “to question what they know to be true.” The progressive green war against the sources of energy this nation needs is starting to look like a classic case of gaslighting. Consider the recent media frenzy that led federal regulators to “consider [a] ban on gas stoves amid health fears.” The panic over gas stoves’ reported danger to human health was fueled by research from the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit.
“Gas-burning stoves in kitchens across America are responsible for roughly 12.7 percent of childhood asthma cases nationwide,” the Washington Post bluntly stated, “on par with the childhood asthma risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke.”
“It’s like having car exhaust in a home,” Rocky Mountain Institute Manager Brady Seals told the newspaper.
Urged on by quotes such as that one, reporters grew more hyperbolic. Parents are “worried they’re unintentionally setting their children up for a future of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath,” said Buzzfeed. “Getting rid of gas stoves” could reduce asthma diagnoses by 12.7 percent, the Daily Mail guesstimated. In response, Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr., a Biden appointee, leaned out well over his skis. Natural gas stoves are a “hidden hazard,” Trumka told Bloomberg in an interview, adding that when dealing with this hazard, “any option is on the table” for federal government regulators.
“Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” Trumka warned, building on his stated plan to ban the stoves under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.
At the same time, however, more sober reactions began to filter through the anti-gas stove narrative. The Washington Examiner noted that the peer-reviewed Rocky Mountain Institute study actually left out “the findings of the most comprehensive global study on the topic conducted to date.” That 2013 study, published by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, considered over 512,000 children in 47 countries and found “no evidence of an association between the use of gas as a cooking fuel and either asthma symptoms or asthma diagnosis.”
Oddly, RMI researchers retorted that they had only considered American-sourced studies. Then, in an email response to the Examiner, the study’s authors seemed to acknowledge that the direct link between gas stoves and childhood asthma was somewhat more circuitous than the headlines had indicated.
With other academics and experts critiquing the study for effectively ignoring a host of other environmental factors that could have caused the asthma issues — “mold, traffic pollution, habits of individual families” — the authors appeared to backtrack. Seals said the study “does not assume or estimate a causal relationship” between childhood asthma and natural gas stoves but instead “only reports on a population-level reflection of the relative risk given what we know about exposure to the risk factor.”
That response was followed up by hurried retractions of Trumka’s threats of a ban — from both Trumka himself and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric. “To be clear,” Hoehn-Saric explained, “I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.”
Rather than settling the matter, the retraction sparked a fresh wave of media gaslighting, as reporters scrambled to prove that the gas stove dustup had been a right-wing conspiracy theory all along. Axios claimed gas stoves were now the “right’s new fight.” The Guardian claimed that Republicans were the ones “turn[ing] up the heat on a new culture war target: gas stoves.” Similar headlines in the Washington Post and The Independent claimed that regulators had no plan to ban gas stoves — and blamed conservatives for “slamming” the CPSC and making gas stoves part of a larger “culture war.” Even Factcheck.org attempted to deflect the issue away from Trumka’s initial threat of a ban and onto political “fear and outrage.”
This on-again, off-again pattern — riding a wave of media hysteria induced by questionable science, threatening pending regulatory action, and then following that with retractions or blame-shifting when people express concern — is exactly what smacks of gaslighting. The same tactic was employed when the White House officials let it leak that they were studying the costs associated with closing down Michigan’s Line 5 pipeline, then immediately walked it back, claiming they would not consider making such a move.
Democratic socialist and media favorite Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), similarly trotted out the threat that the world would “end in 12 years” if her action plan to stop climate change was not immediately implemented. When more reasonable commentators questioned her view of climate science, she gaslit the public, claiming that only someone with the “social intelligence of a sea sponge” would have believed her original claim.
The general idea seems to be: Don’t believe what we tell you when we say the world will end in 12 years, or that we are studying the costs of closing a pipeline. Certainly don’t believe us when we tell you “any action is on the table” or “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” Instead, believe only the hurried retractions and the media’s soothing reassurances that the “real problem” is your crazy, conspiracy theory-laden mind.
Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich. Follow him on Twitter @jasonthayes.