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I almost titled this video "Is fracking good?" but I decided not to do that because, like, obviously, no. Anything that increases the amount of fossil fuels we can get out of the ground is bad. But, at the same time, natural gas is used for heat in much of America, and skyrocketing natural gas prices would be, like, bad for poor people who sometimes have to choose between bills.

It's almost as if this is really freaking complicated.

Most of the data in this video is from "Our World in Data" https://ourworldindata.org/fossil-fuels which, unfortunately, does not show an increase in growth in coal that has happened in Asia over the last two years. This is the very kind of increase that is terrible news because coal fired power plants have long lives and, once built, they tend to burn at full capacity for decades in order to pay for themselves.

An increase in (regulated) fracking in Asia could help with an immediate end to new coal plants in China and India, which is probably the most important short-term goal to help curb the climate crisis.


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Good morning John, we're going to do nuance today. It's the internet so I don't know how this is going to go.

(0:05) I recently had a tweet go viral, no not that one, or that one. I've had a lot of tweets going viral lately. This one: it's a quote tweet of tweet that referenced an infographic of coal use in the UK over the last eight years. That was a sentence.

(0:21) And my response to this, like very good looking news was like, 'we can do this!" except slightly more vulgar than that because it's Twitter, and when you've only got 240 characters to work with, you have to be more attention grabbing, one might say, maybe a little more vulgar, more outraged. But that's a topic for another video.

(0:39) My point is that we're facing a climate crisis and a lot of people talk about how like, the solutions are impractical or impossible, but we can do this. Like look, the UK used to be like the centre of the universe of coal and now there are some days when they don't produce any coal fired power at all. So we can do this, or can we?

(1:00) Here's another graph. What really hit coal in the nuts in the UK was natural gas, and this is great because natural gas is a cleaner fuel and it also produces less carbon dioxide per megawatt of energy produced. Like we would produce way more carbon dioxide in the US if there weren't suddenly a bunch of cheap natural gas that's kind of putting coal out of business.

(1:22) Now obviously renewables like wind and solar are part of this as well but natural gas is a really important bit. And the reason the natural gas got cost competitive compared to coal is hydraulic fracturing, or what we call fracking, which is, in environmental circles, considered to be universally a bad thing, and like it is bad.

(1:42) It's bad for local environments, it uses a huge amount of water, it comes with a risk of spills, it impacts wildlife, there are potential health hazards and, if done poorly, methane gets released into the atmosphere and methane is itself a greenhouse gas.

(1:53) But then again natural gas is a really good compliment to renewables like wind and solar that don't necessarily track their power production to when the power is needed. Unlike coal fired power plants, which have to be on all the time, natural gas plants can be easily turned on and off and that allows them to pick up their slack when demand spikes at certain times of the day or if it's just not very windy or sunny.

(2:14) In the long term, there are other ways that we might solve this problem, but right now, natural gas is a really good way to solve it and it makes the transition to renewables much easier. Now there are regulations that can decrease the potential negative effects of fracking but there are no ways to completely eliminate the negative effects, it's just not a possible thing.

(2:33) But I say, over and over again, the climate change is like the biggest challenge that humanity has ever faced. The ways that we're going to mitigate that problem are going to, in themselves, have environmental impacts, and that's not necessarily a super comfortable thing to think about or talk about.

(2:50) Of course in a four minute video, I'm not going decide whether fracking is, like, ultimately good or ultimately bad, I think that that depends on how and where it's done. And it's obviously also not a long term solution, it's a bridge to get us to the future we need to be in.

(3:05) I just think it is far too easy to create a villain that is like, sort of standing in the way of some magical solution that isn't really there. But this transition, while it's going to take a long time, has to be done as fast as possible, and the fact that coal, in the last ten years, has become an economically unviable way of making power, at least in America, is huge, it is very good news, and it is something that was largely brought to us, not entirely, but largely brought to us by hydraulic fracturing. That's something that I, as a guy who is often, you know, like, mad at all fossil fuels, have to think about and, like, include in my world view and in my imagining of the path forward, out of this mess.

(3:51) John, I'll see you on Tuesday.