"fossil gas" is already fairly widely used (see the Wikipedia entry for "natural gas" which lists it as a synonym), and while it's not as pejorative as the other ones you suggested, for that very reason it's much more likely to become widely used instead of "natural gas" -- so "fossil gas" is what we should all promote.

Expand full comment

to be clear, I'm not actually suggesting that anyone will adopt these names. it's a tongue-in-cheek way to point out all of the problems with methane.

Expand full comment

And benefits, if methane is burned instead of other fossil fuels and itself kept out the atmosphere.

The less we moralize -- "green," "dirty" products and the more we do cost bennet analysis of policies, the better off we will be.

Expand full comment

I think moralizing is important in narrative. We're inherently story people, not computers. Would you agree that the long-term cost:benefit on heavily taxing fossils and heavily subsidizing renewables and storage are worth it? To the extent that taxation can shape the incentive landscape.

Expand full comment
Oct 18, 2023·edited Oct 18, 2023Liked by Andrew Dessler

Andrew and Zeke,

This was brought to my attention by a substack note from Katharine Hayhoe.

News Release :

"A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine provides a broad set of recommendations that form a comprehensive plan to put the U.S. on a pathway to realize its net-zero carbon emissions goals by 2050 and ensure that all Americans can benefit from a fair and equitable energy transition."


IMO, every climate scientist and scientific organization in the U.S. should get the word out and support this.

Expand full comment

I'm under the impression that "natural gas" is used in order to distinguish it from a predecessor, "town gas", which is/was typically produced from coal. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_gas. In this context, the terms "natural gas", and "renewable natural gas", aren't that inappropriate. It's nevertheless true that the methane portion of each is currently assessed as being about ten times as potent as a greenhouse gas, on a per mole basis and over a 100 year period, as CO2.

Expand full comment

I came here to say this -- it's not an invention of contemporary corporations' PR departments.

Expand full comment

For all its problems, let's remember that it emits less than half the amount of CO2 / MWh compared to coal and is an important part of our transition away from coal towards carbon-free sources. It is already contributing to a reduction of CO2 emissions as we move from coal to renewables. Here are two relevant references:




The second reference is by Dr. John Bistline and is titled "The role of natural gas in reaching net-zero emissions in the electric sector." It was published in Aug. 2022.

Expand full comment

It's called natural gas not for any of the reasons you've suggested but because it's not artificially made from the gasification from coal.

Expand full comment

In my writing I simply refer to it as "natural methane," which both acknowledges its source and its makeup. Have for a few years now.

Expand full comment
Oct 17, 2023·edited Oct 17, 2023

I'm doing an extended series on Methane over at my Stack, with a complete history of the American flammable gas industry. I think you and your readers would be interested. https://thespouter.substack.com/p/digestions-end

Expand full comment

Just for completeness, I would like to point out that natural gas is CDR fuel.

NG is potential energy and is a tool for doing valuable work. With the appropriate energy-efficient CO2 capture technology, NG can power the removal and sequestration of CO2 from the air.

My analysis of my energy-efficient CO2 capture technology shows that a unit of NG can capture and sequester its own CO2 emission as well as 3 to 5 additional units of CO2 from the air.

Given that we need to remove more than 1,500 gigatons of CO2 from the air sometime soon, NG could be instrumental in achieving this goal.

But don't worry, using NG to power CDR is unlikely to happen in a useful timeframe. Funding audiences are not interested in developing energy-efficient CDR technologies. FrontierClimate is focused on short-term technologies and prefers CDR that can be cheap someday. The US DOE is mostly run by chemical engineers, and they prefer energy-destroying CDR technologies like Carbon Engineering. Nobody proposes powering Carbon Engineering's CDR using only natural gas for obvious reasons.

Expand full comment

Yes, the adjective "natural" is just silly. "Natural" gas is good because is emits less CO2 per BTU than other fossil fuels, though more than highly unnatural nuclear or solar power generation.

Expand full comment

Ironic that the picture you post is an actress in front of building party destroyed by a gas explosion a few years before.

Putin thought that Europe would't retaliate because they're dependent on Russian gas? I think that you mean the US provoked Russia with NATO expansion and then blew up NS2 to ensure American energy dominance.

Expand full comment