Imagine a new energy source with only half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. It pollutes minimally, uses safe, proved technology, and is widely available. Economic without subsidies, it provides reliable power on demand.
Surely this radical breakthrough would be welcomed by environmentalists, governments and consumers alike?
This surprising salvation does exist, in the form of a familiar friend - natural gas. Yet despite these benefits, it is under attack from the very environmentalists who should welcome it.
Gas is now in global abundance because of two advances: technological leaps that have recently made the giant resource of gas trapped in shale rocks economic to extract; and a booming liquefied natural (LNG) industry that transports supplies from leading producers such as Qatar to worldwide markets.
Aloulou Fawzi from the US department of energy, speaking at the Dubai Global Energy Forum last month, outlined that recoverable shale gas could double current global reserves - and his study did not even include three of the most promising areas, the Middle East, Russia and the Caspian.
US greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 were at their lowest level since 1995, partly because of the substitution of gas for coal.
Dieter Helm, an economist from Oxford University, described shale gas as "the first glint of hope in the climate change debate". And while oil prices have soared, gas is less than half 2008 prices.
Europe can cut dependence on politically insecure supplies from Russia. In the Gulf, given the right prices and policies, new gas supplies could help meet surging electricity demand and obviate the need to burn valuable oil.
In China, South Africa and India, it could displace the burning of dirty but cheap coal in urban areas.
Gas is increasingly being used in vehicles to cut pollution and limit oil imports, but opponents around the world are determined to reject this gift.
France's lower legislative house has passed a bill to ban "fracking", the process of fracturing shale with high pressure to release trapped gas.
South Africa has delayed Shell's plans to explore in the Karoo desert, particularly over concerns about water requirements. And New York state has put a moratorium on fracking within its boundaries.
The industry must take some blame for this state of affairs, which is essentially a problem of bad communication. It failed to rebut a tendentious, error-strewn paper from Robert Howarth of Cornell University claiming that gas led to higher greenhouse emissions than coal.
Gas companies have not convinced the public that fracking, a process in widespread use since the 1940s, is essentially safe. The rush to develop US shale gas has led to some high-profile incidents of contamination of streams and of gas allegedly leaking into household water supplies.
There is no intrinsic link between such incidents and shale gas - they could happen in any carelessly managed drilling operation - but the industry needs to tighten up its practices.
Fracking service companies have also been unwilling to disclose the chemicals they use (99.5 per cent water, plus sand and a number of mostly harmless additives), giving the impression they have something to hide.
But the environmental movement should also take a hard look at itself. It appears locked into a fundamentalist position, which considers only renewable energy acceptable.
Genuine environmental problems associated with shale gas can be tackled by improved regulation, not by the blunt instrument of a ban. In a similar context, the Chinese nuclear safety official Tian Jiashu said: "We are not going to stop eating for fear of choking."
A recent report by the UN body reporting on climate change suggested renewable energy could meet 80 per cent of world demand by 2050, a projection that ignores the history of every previous energy transition. If on grounds of cost or reliability renewable energy fails to live up to these targets, there is no plan B.
Bill Gates, talking last week about his foundation's environmental activities, had much wiser counsel: "There are different approaches - carbon sequestration, natural gas, nuclear, renewable, solar - none of which is clear will be economic, so we need to pursue them all."
From a cynical point of view, GCC states could welcome opposition to shale gas. Less production in Europe and the US means bigger markets for Qatari LNG, reduced competition for Gulf petrochemical companies, and a smaller chance that gas might become a viable competitor to oil for fuelling buses and trucks.
But this would be short-sighted. The Middle East needs to join the debate.
Gas needs to be marketed not as a scarce, premium fuel but as the clean, secure and abundant mainstay of 21st-century energy.
Robin Mills is an energy economist in Dubai, and author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis and Capturing Carbon