There’s a Lot in a Name

February 20 2018
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Jon Shure
There’s a Lot in a Name

Which is safer, natural gas or methane?

It’s a trick question. Natural gas is made up mostly of methane, a highly flammable substance and an extremely potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Natural gas’s other chemical components can cause a variety of health problems.

Yet there’s something about the word “natural,” when placed in front of “gas,” that makes it seem nicer than it is. Think of “natural foods,” “natural fibers,” “natural childbirth” — phrases that we, often with a push from advertising copy writers, associate with good things.

In fact, natural gas is a fossil fuel that, like other fossil fuels — coal, oil — is problematic for the world’s future health and safety. Of course it’s natural; there’s no such thing as unnatural gas.

In Taft’s work with ReThink Energy NJ we’ve come to appreciate the power — pun intended — of natural gas. The phrase can make it harder for people to see the risks of proposed natural gas pipelines, for example. The good news is that understanding is growing. In a Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind opinion survey taken for ReThink last year, only 41% of those polled considered natural gas to be clean energy, down from 62% the year before.

No doubt, those who produce and sell “natural gas” have given thought to the nomenclature they use. You never hear them utter “methane.”

Maybe another sector of the energy industry will abandon the impossible-to-believe phrase “clean coal” and start calling it “natural coal.”

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