“Natural” gas industry borrows from Big Tobacco’s playbook to mislead public
Imagine for a minute that you’re a highly paid business executive who just discovered that the product you sell is making people — especially children — sick. What do you do?
The answer was clear to 1960s-era “natural” gas executives who discovered gas stoves were polluting indoor air: Follow the tobacco industry’s example around the health harms of smoking and confuse the public with fake science and splashy advertising campaigns.
The similarity between the tactics employed by the gas industry and the tobacco industry isn’t a coincidence. Rebecca John, a researcher at the Climate Investigations Center, uncovered documents showing that the gas industry hired the same people as the tobacco industry — the same public relations firm and the same industry-sponsored scientific “experts.”
John, whose research was recently covered by NPR, found that much of the misleading tactics came from the American Gas Association — the same utility trade group that millions of Americans are currently forced to fund through their monthly energy bills:
“The documents show that natural gas utilities and their powerful trade group, the American Gas Association (AGA) … funded studies that countered the emerging research on health risks, sometimes without disclosing their financial support. The industry-backed studies focused on uncertainties in the health research and magnified them, leaving the impression that the science is not clear, even as evidence has accumulated about a link between using gas stoves at home and greater risk of respiratory illnesses.”
Getting polluting gas stoves on TV
John’s research also showed that the AGA’s misinformation campaign extended deep into popular culture — specifically TV and movies. Recent reporting from Vox showed how the AGA got gas stoves into Julia Child’s highly popular cooking show in an attempt to make gas cooking look trendy to millions of Americans.
The AGA even had industry-friendly Hollywood executives on speed dial, and used them to scrub movies of references to the explosive dangers of gas:
“This ‘watchdog’ function is aided by friends in the industry who alert the bureau to scripts that call for a gas explosion or an asphyxiation,’ [an article in a gas industry trade magazine] read. ‘As a result of the Hollywood Bureau’s efforts last year, four potential damaging and misleading portrayals of gas incidents never reached the air.’ The group also detailed efforts to land more pro-gas scripts, working with studios so ‘an environmentally conscious producer or director’ might plug the ‘non-polluting’ aspects of ‘natural’ gas in scripts.”
It’s no wonder that today the public is still largely unaware of “natural” gas’s role in worsening the climate crisis, or its impact on indoor air quality in our homes. Just like the Big Tobacco, the gas industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for decades to obscure the truth: gas is a polluting, explosive fossil fuel.