Are We Toast?

Or, Do We Have The Time And Wisdom To Protect Our Planet's Climate?

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Automobiles II - Future?

On September 29th, 1993, U.S. President Clinton, Vice-President Gore and automotive industry leaders announced a new federal/industry partnership to produce an safe, affordable, recyclable automobile with a mileage goal of 80 miles/gallon.  The federal government would contribute funding and military technology, while industry would design and build the vehicles.  Each of the "Big Three" partners showed hybrid diesel-electric "concept cars" in 2000, and was prepared to deliver working prototypes in 2002.  However in January of 2002,  after a federal investment of more that a billion dollars,  Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced that the Bush administration was canceling the project and initiating a new program "FreedomCAR" to promote pure hydrogen-powered vehicles.

In contrast to the Clinton program, the Bush program is:  "not designed to produce any particular vehicle or advantage any particular technology, but rather to accelerate the adoption of advanced automotive technologies targeted toward a broad range of vehicles and the technologies needed to develop the hydrogen infrastructure." (March 2006, Partnership Plan (  Funding for the project was $182,104,000 in Fiscal Year 2006.  The project is now also including "advanced internal combustion engines" and "hybrids" seemingly ignoring that  such vehicles were previously scheduled for delivery in 2002.

It is highly speculative that  hydrogen powered vehicle will be mass produced in a reasonable time-frame; especially when considering that such vehicles will require an entirely new infrastructure for the manufacture, storage and distribution of hydrogen fuel.

It is also vital to remember that a hydrogen vehicle does not eliminate, or reduce, greenhouse gases, it only moves the source of emission to, primarily coal-fired, electric generating facilities as the production of hydrogen requires prodigious amounts of electricity.  In fact, and 80mpg diesel-hybrid might be far more environmentally friendly than hydrogen powered vehicles.

Yet something must change, and fast, if we are to survive climate change.  We are witnessing an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the developed nations.  Consequently  in such countries as India and China, large numbers of people now have disposable income, with tens of millions seeking to buy their first cars.  There are 1,148 vehicles for every thousand Americans, while there are only 9 vehicles for every 1000 qualified driver in China and only 11 vehicles per potential driver in India.  The economies of India and China are growing at a rate of 11-12% a year, rapidly increasing the purchasing power of their citizens.  The current total world consumption of oil is currently 86 million barrels per day. If India and China were to increase their per capita consumption of petroleum to only one-half the U.S. rate, an additional 100 million barrels per day would be required.  Clearly a 116% increase in oil supply does not appear feasible and would undoubtedly be a climatic disaster. 

In addition to competition for resources, the aspirations of the rapidly increasing "middle class" in the developing nations for the high-energy will likely more than undo any reduction of carbon emissions achieved by the developed nations.  Environmental planning cannot be based just on the world as it is, but must also take into consideration of what the world is rapidly becoming.  It will be impossible for the developed nations to deny their standard of living to the rising middle classes of the developing nations, but rather we must all plan for a lifestyle that consumes far less carbon-based energy that is currently being proposed.

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