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Another Voice: We must move from carbon to a hydrogen economy

By W.T. “Bill” McKibben

Pay me now, pay me later. The bargain-priced gasoline we are enjoying comes with a huge price tag.
Our carbon economy creates pollutants that impact our lives in many ways. Violent weather is perhaps the most obvious result of our reliance on carbon fuel. Communities are ravaged by these storms that seem to show up somewhere every day in the news cycle, homes and businesses destroyed, streets flooded, normal lives interrupted. Billions in tax dollars to repair damaged infrastructure, billions more in private sector insurance claims.

Then there’s the impact of carbon pollutants on our health. How much in medical costs, how many lives lost, how many productive hours are lost? When you take all of  these factors into account, our carbon-based economy is prohibitively costly.

The sun provides more than enough energy to cover our needs, enough energy to heat and cool our homes and businesses, enough energy to power over-the-road vehicles, enough energy to carry us through the air and over the waters. Enough to satisfy our every need and fulfill all our wishes, all wasted because we are trapped in the grip of those who profit from the carbon economy. It’s long past time to begin a move to a hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe. The trick is capturing it on earth. Once loosed it is immune to earth’s gravity and takes off for outer space. However, isolating and containing hydrogen is no more difficult than extracting carbon fuels, oil, natural gas and coal from the earth. The beauty is that there are many ways to harvest hydrogen. Vast solar farms can power hydrogen harvesting operations. Windy, out-of-the-way ocean and inland locations abound. The trick is to look at hydrogen as a clean energy storage medium.

We must invest in massive harvesting facilities and require all new construction to conform to the hydrogen model. A hydrogen storage center in each home and building can supply hydrogen as needed to generate electricity.

The recent advancements in solar roofing products and work being done to add solar to window glass, siding and other construction materials will reduce the need for supplemental hydrogen in homes and smaller buildings. Geothermal energy can be built into new homes; existing homes can install tubes around the structure and massive geothermal plants can serve larger facilities.

We must move toward taking down the wasteful and vulnerable electric grid by 2025, 2030 latest. The clean generating facilities can be converted to hydrogen, the carbon-based natural gas and coal plants shuttered. Regional grid resources can be maintained as we move to self-sustainable homes and buildings. Hydrogen can be delivered to supplement on-site generation much as we supply fuel oil now.

The health benefits alone more than justify moving from a carbon to a hydrogen economy. Improved quality of life and reduced infrastructure wear and tear are a wonderful bonus.

W.T. “Bill” McKibben is a Buffalo-based author.

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