Communicating the Need to Phase Out Gas

Communicating the Need to Phase Out Gas

The extraction, production, and use of gas is harmful to human health, damages ecosystems, and fuels the climate crisis. The terminology of “natural gas” has led to widespread misunderstanding of its threats to health, safety, and the climate. Americans widely view gas as being affordable and reliable, and the recent introduction of bans on gas in new construction has sparked a partisan debate.
On June 15, Cara Pike (Executive Director, Climate Access) moderated a roundtable conversation with experts on how to communicate and engage Americans on phasing out gas. Panelists included: Phoebe Sweet (Managing Director, Campaigns and Strategies, Climate Nexus), Andrea Everett (Senior Director of Survey Research and Data Science, Climate Nexus), and Michelle Piñon (SAFE Cities Senior Distributed Organizer, Here are some key insights from the roundtable:

How the Public Perceives Gas

  • A majority of Americans perceive natural gas to be reliable, plentiful, affordable and clean: Americans are split over banning natural gas hookups in new buildings within their communities. Democrats strongly favor banning gas in new construction and Republican voters strongly oppose policies taxing or eliminating natural gas.
  • Americans aren’t fully ready for a complete break with fossil fuels: Due to concerns about what a transition away from fossil fuels would mean for their own lives and the economy, Americans are more comfortable with the idea of a continued mix of energy sources where fossil fuels, including gas, would continue to be used alongside renewables, rather than a full phase out.
  • Following the recent media cycle on gas stoves: There was an increase in awareness of health impacts, support for safety warnings and efficiency improvements. However, support eroded among Democrats for electrification policies, most likely because people worried that electrification might mean giving something up. People are unsure what they think about methane and aren’t convinced that gas is an imminent threat to their well-being. It’s not clear that drawing the connection between gas and methane can change opinions.


How to Talk about Shifting Away from Gas

  • We need to be aware of the messenger and the target audience: Point-of-purchase individuals, such as installers, are important messengers. There are lots of points along the supply chain where we need to do a better job of educating people to provide information.
  • Economic messages tend to rise to the top, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is the only thing you should talk about: Pair an economic message with a health message – or an economic message with a climate message – to talk with people about how the things they care about are being affected and make those connections.
  • Tell the story of the gas industry and the people it’s impacting: Whether it’s people who live near fracking sites or the kid in your kitchen, these chemicals are bad for everyone. Tell stories about specific places and campaigns. Point to the impact fossil fuel projects are having on Indigenous people, specific stories about how the industry has been negligent, and how communities are taking action.
  • Gas stoves are a conduit for talking about how the fossil fuel industry is trying to lock in and commit us to being reliant on gas for the next few decades: The fossil fuel industry is hiring influencers to market gas stoves as luxury items to encourage continued dependence. We’re talking about a much broader system change and ultimately that’s what’s going to get us to our climate and health goals.


How to Engage Communities in an Energy Transition

  • Offer people a vision of what a climate-safe future actually looks like: How does an induction stove work? What would it be like to live in a building with clean air, new appliances, heaters and cooling that functions well. Fear-based messages have their limitations. We have to offer people a vision of what a climate-safe home looks like.
  • We have all of the solutions we need to solve the fossil fuel problem today, it’s an issue of political will: The fossil fuel industry is spending billions of dollars to spread the message that gas is clean, safe, and reliable in an attempt to lock in an energy market since they see that the tide is shifting.
  • Make it explicit for people that the industry’s interests aren’t aligned with their best interests: This is a systemic issue that people can’t solve entirely through individual choices. It comes down to changing the incentive structures. People respond better to descriptions of policies that appear to maintain the idea that people have individual choice. Show that fossil fuel companies are taking advantage of ties with the government to prevent people from making better choices for themselves.
  • Acknowledge cultural implications of an energy transition: Food is culture and people feel strongly about how they cook. We want to encourage folks to have more nuanced conversations about an energy transition and create space for people to talk to one another about what that means for their daily lives and make sure their voices are heard.

► Watch a recording of the full conversation