Pseudo-Environmental Hummers

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A lone Hummer driver with a conscience? At first glance, it seems so. But this is actually becoming something of a trend: Everyone who is pitching an alternative fuel these days is using a Hummer to make his or her point. And the reason is obvious. Everyone knows that Hummers are the most gas guzzing private vehicles on the road, and are much despised by people who are concerned about the environment or America’s addiction to foreign oil.

This one is carrying a sign saying that because it is run on hydrogen, it pollutes less than a hybrid vehicle well known as a choice of environmentally conscious drivers. It’s evidently operated by a company pitching hydrogen fuel that has chosen a Hummer to draw attention to its statement on the cleanliness of hydrogen. There might not be emissions coming out of its tailpipe, but as James Howard Kunstler notes in his latest book, The Long Emergency, "It takes more energy to manufacture hydrogen than the hydrogen itself produces." Because of this, Kunstler calls hydrogen an energy carrier instead of a fuel, and notes that it is unlikely that hydrogen will ever amount to a significant fuel for our cars.

It would be nice, neat, and simple if all the powered infrastructure and equipment of our society could simply be switched to hydrogen, but it’s not going to happen. A few things may run on hydrogen, but not America’s automobile and trucking fleets. In the long run hydrogen will not replace our lost oil and gas endowments.

Matt Savinar, midway through the second page of Life After the Oil Crash, lays out a heavily sourced, methodical debunking of hydrogen that includes five reasons why hydrogen is going nowhere: the astronomical cost of fuel cells, the lack of adequate platinum supply, the inability to store massive quantities needed for hydrogen to function as a fuel, the incredibly massive cost of the needed hydrogen infrastructure, and as Kunstler noted above, hydrogen’s nature as a net consumer of energy.

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Here’s another Hummer on an enviro-tour, this one promoting ethanol. The Streetsblog tipster who e-mailed in the link above noted, "I can just see the bumper sticker now: ‘I ate more grain today than a small African village does in a year.’"

Ouch! How true is that statement? For the most thoughtful discussions on energy resources, I turn to The Oil Drum, which has weighed in on ethanol frequently. In May, contributor Robert Rapier ran the numbers and determined that if the United States were to yank back all its corn exports and turn them into ethanol for our cars instead of food for foreign countries, the E85 produced would amount to 3.3% of our national gasoline pool. If we wanted to turn the entire corn crop into ethanol, it would satisfy 13.4% of our annual gasoline demand. That would leave zero corn for, you know, eating, and would devastate the meat industry, which uses that corn to feed livestock. Further, he noted that the corn is grown with massive amounts of fossil fuel "inputs," like fertilizers and pesticides derived from oil or natural gas, so the ethanol isn’t feasible without oil anyway.

A better solution than ethanol or hydrogen would be to stop building Hummers and start conserving energy. The best way to do that is to promote environmentally friendly communities like New York City, which keeps development pressure away from farmland, houses millions of people in small, well-insulated apartments, and of course, promotes auto-free mobility.

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