Finally, there is global warming, not the most powerful argument for launching the hydrogen economy. However, there is no disputing that climate change is responsible for numerous natural disasters. An economy based on hydrogen doesn’t have that problem.
| August 2003 issue
Global warming is often cited at the most important reason to transfer to sustainable energy. Burning fossil fuels, like natural gas, results in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere and prevents the heat that is reflected off the earth’s surface from escaping. This so-called ‘greenhouse effect’ leads to climate change. The polar ice caps are melting, which is causing the level of the oceans to rise. This development is threatening atolls in the Pacific Ocean along with Holland’s delta dikes.
The World Watch Institute’s recent State of the World 2003 estimates that in 2100 the global sea level will have risen 27 centimetres. Although scientists have been able to convincingly demonstrate that a rise in the sea level of around three decimetres will have dramatic effects on life on earth – islands and certain countries will simply disappear. However, such a long-term perspective, however menacing, is difficult for consumers and incumbent politicians to grasp. Most people simply don’t think about rising sea levels when they get in their cars.
An important additional effect of the changing climate is the increase in the number of severe storms and natural disasters. Some ten years ago, environmental groups found they had an unexpected partner in their battle against global warming: the insurance companies. For insurers, global warming is no longer an academic discussion. Over the past decade, they have seen an explosive rise in their damages payments due to natural disasters. Storms that previously came along once every 10 years are now ravaging certain areas (nearly) every year. Such damages could provide yet another argument for an energy revolution. But in practice consumers and businesses would rather pay higher insurance premiums and not change their behaviour, just as a higher petrol price has little or no effect on driver behaviour. A painful aside: a large proportion of the natural disasters strike the developing world and the victims are often poor people without a casting vote in the international economy and political sphere.
The dangers of global warming are either perceived as far away or are accepted as a necessary expense. Which is why behavioural change is evidently an unsatisfactory argument.