Commentary: global heating: why we must shift to carbon-free fuel.

Author:Hoffmann, Peter
Position:COMMENTARY
 
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In a few days, President Bush will be hosting a climate summit in Washington, and Congress will begin what promises to be a long series of deliberations on climate legislation. At long last, there's basic agreement that we have to get serious about fighting global warming. The elephant in the room is, "how"? One answer--arguably the best one--came from Europe's parliamentarians in Strasbourg last May. The Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a declaration calling for a green hydrogen economy and "a third industrial revolution."

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The basic issues are no longer in doubt since the report from Bangkok last spring by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Under the most severe scenario, the world must stabilize greenhouse gases by 2015--eight years from now!--at 450 parts carbon dioxide (CO2) per million to keep global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels.

A solution that's been studied exhaustively all over the world at least since the 1970s is to substitute the quintessential carbon-free, by definition environmentally benign, chemical hydrogen for fossil fuels.

In the U.S. in recent years, however, hydrogen has largely slipped off the radar screen of environmental interest, elbowed aside in the public's perception by other suggestions.

These include a carbon tax and carbon trading, carbon sequestration, tougher energy conservation, higher energy-efficiency standards, alternatives such as plug-in hybrids, bio-fuels and bio-diesel, ethanol, clean coal, wind and wave power, solar energy and geothermal energy and even advanced nuclear power. All are helpful and are to be applauded, but they won't be sufficient. We must stop putting carbon into the air in the first place--not take it out afterwards--and we must start moving towards a carbon-free fuel--hydrogen, NOW to begin veering away from catastrophe.

Everybody knows by now that the principal culprit is man-made CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels in trains, planes, automobiles etc. But less well known is that CO2 stays in the atmosphere a lot longer than previously believed: hundreds, maybe thousands of years, for all practical purposes "forever," according to NASA's James Hansen. Thus, stabilizing and reducing global CO2 levels by getting rid of carbon must become a global priority.

Both short-term and longer-term approaches are needed, especially given the rapidly growing economies of China and India (Last year, China alone added 96,000 megawatts...

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