Bill McKibben’s “Terrifying New Chemistry”

For years now, the gas-as-a-bridge-fuel optimism squad has worked hard to reassure us. We could muddle through after all, and stop dreaming about, say, a global crash program to reach global “net zero emissions” by 2050. In effect, there’s a business-as-usual path forward to the renewable future. All you have to do is accept gas into your transition story, and you can avoid an “unrealistically” rapid phase out of fossil energy, while still avoiding the nuclear option.

Alas, it does not appear that the angels of history will be so kind.

In 2012, Bill McKibben’s Terrifying New Math thrust carbon-budget accounting into the mainstream. In the process, he made it clear to all that (as the scientists had already known), there would be no easy path forward. We were facing an emergency situation, and the first wisdom was to admit it. Now, if we’re lucky, his Terrifying New Chemistry will do the same for frack gas, which is to say fugitive methane, which is to say that, unless McKibben is wrong, the “gas as bridge fuel” path is not an option, not if we actually intend to avoid catastrophe. As The Nation’s pull quote has it, “Our leaders thought fracking would save our climate. They were wrong. Very wrong.”