Ad campaign uses humor to urge Americans to ditch natural gas

Artwork for Gas Leaks Project's anti-gas campaign "Hot & Toxic\

By Nichola Groom

(Reuters) - When environmentalists talk about climate change, it's typically in stark terms, describing it as a crisis that threatens the future of the planet. A scrappy group of filmmakers and activists think it can also be funny.

The Gas Leaks Project, a group formed by climate advocacy veterans, launched a $1 million campaign this week that uses humor to push back against oil and gas industry messaging that natural gas, which is lower emitting than coal, is a critical "bridge fuel" in the transition to renewable energy.

In recent years, research has shown that natural gas contributes significantly to global warming by leaking from distribution infrastructure and other sources. A 2022 Harvard study also found that natural gas used in homes contains hazardous pollutants.

Called "Hot & Toxic," the campaign's trailer is a riff on a reality television show in which 21 irritating housemates symbolizing pollutants associated with natural gas descend on an unsuspecting homeowner. The message is clear: Using natural gas inside your home is not safe.

"I did not come here to make friends," the actor playing Carbon Monoxide, or C.Mo, says directly to the camera as if being interviewed.

"I came here to cause chest pain, nausea and vomiting."

In addition to the trailer, the campaign includes social media content and billboards in Los Angeles and Washington. It is sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a nonprofit that advises and manages charitable giving.

"We really took a lot of care to design it in the most engaging way possible so it feels like a reality TV show," James Hadgis, a filmmaker who was tapped to run the Gas Leaks Project as its executive director, said in an interview. "I hope it brings people in to want to watch it and make it fun and funny and click to learn more."

Asked to comment on the campaign, the American Gas Association trade group said natural gas is fundamental to energy security, economic prosperity and achieving the nation's environmental goals.

"Despite advocacy groups willfully spreading misinformation and promoting ill-informed energy policy that would drive up prices and sacrifice environmental progress, this industry will continue to implement inclusive solutions to deliver life essential energy and reduce emissions for our customers and communities," AGA President Karen Harbert said in a statement.

Though the campaign is kicking off with warnings about the public health impacts of natural gas, Hadgis said he is eager to produce more content focused on climate.

Gas Leaks Project was created by a coalition of firms focused on climate communications, including Fossil Free Media, Energy Media, Sunstone Strategies and Climate Nexus.

"A lot of climate messaging is really boring," said Jamie Henn, founder of Fossil Free Media. "We need to be out there talking to people a little less like their science teachers and a little more like their best friends."

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Sandra Maler)