By James Crooks

Social media has been awash with outrage  over new rules drafted by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which would require many of the city’s famous pizza joints to upgrade their wood- or coal-fired pizza ovens.

After an initial article from the New York Post by Marc Morano on Sunday 25 June 2023, other news outlets across the world have run with this story. On the one hand, alarmist headlines about the threat that this new rule poses to New York’s unique pizza culture have stirred up a public frenzy; on the other, unclear claims around the proposed rule seeking to reduce ‘emissions’ by 75% have led commentators to make some false equivalencies: “Green madness: You’d have to burn a pizza stove 849 years to equal one year of John Kerry’s private jet”. Even Twitter’s CEO Elon Musk took the time to weigh-in on his platform, sharing his views in a comment with over 4 million views and helping to promote the claims made by the New York Post’s original article (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1: Snapshot from Social Media

The problem is that the claims featured in the original article – especially the title – are misleading ‘click-bait’ at best or, at worst, a deliberate attempt to manipulate readers and distract from the conversation surrounding climate and pollution regulations. Let’s take a look at what the proposed rule actually entails.

Statement of Basis and Purpose
Local Law Number 38 for the year 2015 amended Title 24 of the 
Administrative Code of the City of New York, the “Air Code,” by adding 
a new Section 24-149.5, which provides that cook stoves used at 
food-service establishments must have an emission control device for 
odors, smoke, and particulates that meets the requirements of rules 
established by the Department. 
DEP is proposing these rules, as required by Section 24-149.5, to 
reduce particulate matter released into the environment, which is a 
known cause of asthma and other respiratory complications. In 
accordance with Section 24-105 of the Administrative Code, an 
advisory committee has been consulted in the development of these rules. The committee includes representatives from the restaurant and related industries, representatives of the environmental protection and environmental justice communities, and experts in the health effects of pollutants associated with cooking devices. In addition, and also pursuant to Section 24-105, the Department considered the availability and cost of emissions control devices when developing these proposed rules. 
Cook stoves that were installed after Section 24-149.5 took effect in 
May 2016 are subject to the rules set forth at 15 RCNY Chapter 38, 
which were promulgated in May 2017. This proposed rule governs cook 
stoves that were installed prior to May 6, 2016. Section 24-149.5 
required this rule to be promulgated before January 1, 2020. The advisory committee and DEP were unable to finalize a rule in that timeframe due to the difficulty of crafting a rule to manage technical and cost concerns that are attendant to the installation of emission control devices. For example, costs for controls for existing cook stoves can be difficult to manage as the spaces in which these cook stoves operate are often aging structures that were not designed to accommodate emission control devices. In addition, many of the 
locations where existing cook stoves are used are not owned by the operators of the cook stoves, and changes required to install such 
devices require obtaining the landlord’s permission. The advisory 
committee took additional time to consider these practical concerns in 
the process of crafting the proposed rule. The rulemaking was further delayed due to the difficulty of convening the advisory committee during the Covid-19 pandemic. 
The proposed rule provides that the operators of cook stoves that were 
installed prior to May 6, 2016 must hire a professional engineer or 
registered architect to assess the feasibility of installing emission 
controls on the cook stove to achieve a 75% reduction in particulate emissions. If this assessment concludes that a reduction of 75% or more cannot be achieved, or that no emissions controls can be installed, the assessment must identify any emission controls that could provide a reduction of at least 25% or an explanation for why no emission controls can be installed.
Figure 2: Abstract from the proposed addition to the New York City ‘Air Code’  regarding cook stoves.
(Source: cityrecord-06-23-23.pdf (; page 2968)

The proposed rule from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an addition to the ‘Air Pollution Control Code’. This code is aimed at reducing the levels of airborne pollutants in and around the New York City area. The proposed changes (see Fig. 2 above) would require food-service businesses with ‘cook stoves’ installed prior to 6 May 2016 to investigate the feasibility of applying emission-reducing devices with a target of reducing particulate emissions by 75%. This is designed to bring these older cook stoves in line with the regulations implemented in 2016 for new installations, which are required to include such emission control devices (see Fig. 3 below).

Figure 3: The existing regulation in New York City regarding the use and installation of cook stoves.
A Cook Stove is defined as a wood fired or anthracite coal fired appliance used for the preparation of food intended for onsite consumption or retail purchase.

Contrary to the concerns raised by Marc Morano in the New York Post or echoed by Elon Musk on Twitter, this new rule has nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions relating to climate change. This addition seeks to reduce the amount of fine particulate matter and elemental carbon in the air, both of which have been strongly linked to the development of cancer, other physical medical conditions such as asthma, as well as mental health problems including the development of dementia.  

Air quality and particle pollution is a global issue. According to a 2022 study, particulate pollution resulted in the premature deaths of 238,000 people within the EU in 2020 alone. The combustion of biomass (wood) and coal is the single largest contributor to particle pollution, more so than transport or industrial combustion. Domestic combustion in the UK in 2021 contributed 27% of all particulate emissions. Local and national governments around the world are slowly waking up to the need to address particulate pollution. While heavy industry and transport have been the focus of many of these efforts, domestic combustion has also begun to come under scrutiny. Here in the UK, the introduction of eco-stove designs and regulations around authorised domestic has contributed to an 11% reduction in the estimated contribution of domestic combustion since 2019.

The need to regulate against activities, which lead to the release of these harmful particles, is made even more immediate by their localised impacts and distribution. A 2020 study conducted in UK homes demonstrated that the use of wood burners more than doubled the concentration of particulate pollution in the home, with the highest concentrations coming from ‘flooding’ events when the stove was opened. In an indoor commercial environment with an open cook stove, this becomes a significant health hazard for both staff and customers. The proposed rule in New York City seeks to regulate these kinds of environments in order to create healthier workplaces and restaurants for its inhabitants.

Figure 4: Air Quality Data in New York County 2010 – 2023 clearly shows that particle pollution regulations have been effective in reducing the levels of pollutants in the air. Source: US EPA Air Data (

In a weird way, Mr Musk is right – this new rule will not make a difference to climate change. Marc Morano’s complaint that the emissions from John Kerry’s private jet in 2021 has the equivalent emissions of running a pizza stove for 849 years does seem plausible  – . Local, federal, national and international bodies do need to act on a larger scale to curb harmful greenhouse gas emissions. However, as any cursory reading of the actual proposed rule change will reveal, this never really was about fighting climate change.

But perhaps neither were these articles and the various online responses.

As early as 2011, Sarah Sobieraj and Jeffrey M. Berry noted the proliferation of what they called ‘outrage discourse’ across various media platforms in the US.  The hallmarks of this type of discourse are the use of sensationalism, misdirection, and misinformation to evoke visceral responses from a specific target audience. In the modern cyber-scape, which encourages ‘click-bait’ titles to maximise views and where social media allows individuals to broadcast their thoughts and opinions within echo-chambers without much fact-checking, it is perhaps unsurprising that this type of discourse has become all-too familiar – but no less insidious. Not only does the emotional nature of the reaction lend itself to being believed, the proliferation of this kind of discourse promotes the establishment of entrenched positions, which in turn undermines also the ability of a society at large to engage with and solve complex and nuanced issues.

This is a significant problem for researchers and communicators working on the modern climate emergency. The urgency of this challenge is perhaps trumped only by its complexity; indeed, the Centre for Energy Ethics was founded in order to bring discussions of the nuance and complexity of these issues to the foreground. In order to achieve any kind of ‘Just Transition’, there will need to be significant trade-offs, dialogues and engagement with and from all groups. The need for these trade-offs, while potentially self-evident to those involved, need to be carefully planned and communicated in order to deter or simply reduce its susceptibility to the ‘outrage discourse machine’. Without a conscious effort to avoid this kind of discourse, we do not just risk shouting into a void; we could be unwittingly reinforcing the already fortified positions occupied across the political spectra, creating further barriers to productive discussion and much-needed collective climate action.