Is Hydrogen a Hoax?

As with any wiz-bang technological fix that gives people false hope that we can keep on driving the way we do and still reduce greenhouse gas emssions, the dignitaries were out in force to associate themselves with the new Hydrogen Fueling station which opened on the HSU campus today.

L to R: Peter Lehman (Schatz), Charlie Fielder (Caltrans District 1 Director), Congressman Mike Thompson and HSU President Rollin Richmond.

Don't get me wrong. Technological fixes that improve the efficiency of our vehicles are a good thing, and Schatz Energy lab should be commended for their great work. It's just that tech fixes like this can only work as part of of a broad strategy to produce more renewable energy to run vehicles.

Yes, just electricity and water! To be fair, the other side of the info sheet had a picture of a windmill, and Mike Thompson did talk at length about renewable energy opportunities on the North Coast, including biomass (which is already in play), wind and waves.

More importantly, and most often left out the conversation at these things, is that changing our land use and transportation system to offer more options to people is probably a more cost-effective emissions reduction approach that provides ancillary benefits to our health, economy, safety, community cohesion and equity of access. Under-the-hood conversion of our car fleet can't do those things, even if it does play a valuable role in helping us reduce emissions.

This car can still isolate people, run them over and help make them fat. And while it will be responsible for less carbon emissions than your average car, in can result in increased emissions of smug.

Kudos to Caltrans District 1 Director Charlie Fielder for getting that. His remarks at the opening put hydrogen into the context of those land use and transprotation changes that provide those other options like biking and transit. He even tied in Humboldt Transit Authority, which, he said, expressed interest in hydrogen technology.

As long as enough funding was provided so that it didn't limit its growth, transit applications of hydrogen technology could be a more cost effective way to reduce emissions, reduce the diesel drag on transit operating budgets, and leap frog us to efficiency that is orders of magnitude beyond the Hydrogen Prius on display. But land use and transportation planning that make walking, biking an transit easier and more cost and time-effective are still something that needs more focus. How about having our congressman show up when we get an additional bus on the RTS route?

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