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Know the West

Global charming


In England to meet with erstwhile British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke optimistically about solutions to global warming. Business opportunities, he said, could make clean technology the “new gold rush,” according to the Sunday Telegraph of London.

“Technology in the end is going to save the day. Technology is going to save the environment,” Schwarzenegger pronounced. “The faster we can improve technology with cleaner cars, cleaner jet engines and so on, the better it is.”

It was a typical Schwarzenegger performance, by which I mean to say it was charming and, as is too often the case with the telegenic former Terminator, unrealistic. Discounting asteroid and comet strikes, there are two primary threats to humanity’s existence: nuclear war (which Schwarzenegger will have no chance of addressing outside the four corners of a movie screen) and global warming, which he could address, but is instead using as the set for his latest politico-cinematic feature, Arnold Against the Hotness.

In promoting Hotness, Schwarzenegger has done a good job of attaching his administration to the general idea of greenness (and a dizzying array of environmental/anti-warming proposals that may or may not ever become reality). The tack has been great for the governor’s image; over the last two years, he has gone from 31 percent voter approval to 61 percent support and another term in office.

I know Schwarzenegger is dedicated to image. I am less certain that he intends to do much about the reality of global warming, and this issue’s cover story, “Hydrogen Highway Revisited” by Matt Palmquist, offers a glimpse at some of the reasons for my skepticism.

In 2003, Schwarzenegger proclaimed a bold new age: Hydrogen filling stations would sprout every 20 miles on major California highways, and half a million hydrogen-powered cars would bustle cleanly and greenly hither and yon across the state. It hasn’t happened, of course, and anyone with a speck of interest in the field would have known that hydrogen — as alluring an energy panacea as ever could be imagined — is at best a shaky long-term bet as a transportation fuel.

So why does Schwarzenegger continue the fiction that hydrogen can be a large and current part of the global warming solution?

First, hydrogen is sexy, and both Schwarzenegger and George Bush hope its aura of environmental innovation will rub off on them. Second, a focus on hydrogen pleases oil and auto companies that are heavily invested in fossil fuels (and in the current governor of California and president of the United States). The oil and car companies know that hydrogen bromides delay a real response to global warming for decades — decades that could allow them to recoup their fossil fuel-related investments as they set themselves up to dominate a new, hydrogen-powered world.

But the planet can’t wait decades. Global warming is a real and present danger, and we shouldn’t be girly-men, waiting for the big strong scientists to save us from the Hotness. We can be heroes to our children and grandchildren by simple expedients: driving smaller, more efficient cars, and demanding that our governments strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Now.