Energy and the Environment: A Time for Change

Date January 14, 2009

Environmental change has been on the forefronts of many people’s agendas for quite a while, and especially since Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth was published.  This book seems to have highlighted the plight of the Earth in easy to understand ways that really hit home.  Of course there were criticisms of Gore’s book and the points he makes (I won’t get into these) but the main point I think everyone agrees on is that we (as a planet) burn too many fossil fuels and generate way too much CO2.

The US, for one, is dependent on foreign oil which creates a plethora of political and environmental issues.  It seems that over the last decade much of these problems were exacerbated by the US’s top government being tightly connected to Big Oil.  Now that Obama has been elected as Bush’s successor, hopefully these connections will be severed and the US can start making changes based on the needs of the people rather than the needs of Big Oil.

There needs to be a push for abandoning fossil fuels wherever we can.  The first and obvious choice is in automobiles.  The technology exists today (in fact it existed 50 years ago) to build cheap electric cars that will serve 90% of the population’s daily needs.  For those people who need an internal combustion engine for long-haul driving, hydrogen can be used.  Hydrogen is easily produced using electricity and so it is also a clean fuel.  There just needs to be a push to move away from fossil fuels, either by the government or by the consumers.

There are a number of people trying to promote alternative energy to reduce our reliance on oil and fossil fuels.  Most of these people are telling us to invest in wind and solar energy.  Although these truly are renewable and clean energy sources, they’re not that practical for supplying the base-load on the electrical grid.  Yes, technological improvements over time will help make these become more practical and cost effective, but this will take years if not decades to achieve.  

An idea that I think warrants more attention is to generate electricity by means of wind or solar which can be used to generate hydrogen or supply other small loads.  BMW combusts hydrogen in their internal combustion engines, just like gasoline.  Hydrogen can also be used in fuel cells to power electric motors.  Both of these technologies could greatly reduce CO2 emissions while effecting little change on our day-to-day lives.

Of course, it will take strong leadership to bring this new technology into the mainstream, but hopefully Obama and his people can make some headway on this.  Leaders are nothing without their followers though, so people will need to be open-minded about new technologies.  Yes, they may cost a bit more at the pump (or plug, or whatever we might end up using) but think of the world and how it would be improving.  Think of how we won’t need to start wars over oil, or worry about the next hurricane or massive blizzard.  Global warming puts more energy into weather systems which creates more severe storms.  Reducing CO2 will (hopefully) prevent things from getting any worse.

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