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The US Must Follow Europe's Lead And Turn Its Back on Oil
The Rise of Hydrogen Power Makes Energy Regime Change Inevitable
Jeremy Rifkin
The Guardian UK

Thursday, 10 October, 2002

This week, the world got a glimpse into the future when General Motors unveiled its revolutionary new Hy-wire car at the Paris motor show. GM's automobile is run on hydrogen, the most basic and lightest element in the universe. When burned, it only emits pure water and heat.

The automobile itself is built on a fuel-cell chassis that lasts for 20 years. Customers can snap on any model they want. There is no conventional steering wheel, no pedals, brakes or engine - the car is steered with a joystick. It is a car for the dotcom generation. While GM financed the car, what is particularly interesting is that much of the engineering, design and software were developed in Europe. The GM car marks the beginning of the end of the internal combustion engine and the shift from an oil-based civilisation to a hydrogen age. Its debut in Europe also speaks to a great change taking place in the way Europe and America view the future.

The EU and the US are beginning to diverge in the most basic aspect of how a society is organised: its energy regime. Nowhere was this emerging reality more apparent than in Johannesburg, at the world summit, when the EU pushed for a target of 15% renewable energy by the year 2010 for the whole world while the US fought the initiative. The EU has already set its own internal target of 22% renewable energy for the generation of electricity and 12% of all energy coming from renewable sources by 2010.

The difference in approach to the future of energy couldn't be more stark. While the EU is beginning to mobilise its industrial sector, research institutes and the public to the task of making an historic transition out of carbon-based fossil fuels and into renewable resources and a hydrogen future, the US is pursuing an increasingly desperate search to secure access to oil. President Bush's almost fanatical obsession with opening up the pristine wildlife refuge in Alaska for oil drilling, despite the fact that even the most optimistic estimates conclude that the oil there will only provide a mere 1% to total global production, is a case in point. Now the president seems determined to invade Iraq. The ostensible reason is that Saddam Hussein may be harbouring weapons of mass destruction, posing a serious security threat to its neighbours and the rest of the world. He may well be right. Still, there is a powerful sub-theme making its way in political circles that the White House is certainly mindful of. That is, Iraq contains the second largest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia. If a US invasion were to "liberate the oil fields", the US would enjoy a new strategic position of influence in the oil-rich Persian gulf and provide a counterpoise to Saudi influence in the region.

Meanwhile, just in case the White House's Middle East strategy backfires, President Bush convened a high-level meeting in Houston last week to work out the details of an earlier May agreement with President Putin of Russia to secure oil from Siberia. Of course, what is left unsaid in the euphoria around finding a possible substitute for Persian gulf oil is that Russia's remaining oil reserves are less than half that of Saudi Arabia, and the Russian reserves are depleting quickly as its oil companies flood the world market.

What is becoming clear is that while the EU is looking to the future, the US is desperately holding on to the past. The world is moving into the sunset era of the great fossil-fuel culture that began with the harnessing of coal and steam power more than 200 years ago. Granted, the world's leading petro-geologists disagree about exactly when global production of oil will peak. That is the point where half the known oil reserves and projected oil yet to be discovered are used up. After that point, the price of oil on world markets steadily rises as oil production moves down the classic bell-shaped curve. The Cassandras say that peak production is likely to occur as early as the end of this decade, but probably no later than 2020, while the optimists say that global peak production won't occur until around 2040. What is most striking, however, is how little time difference separates the two camps - only 20 to 30 years. What they both agree on is that once global oil production does peak, two-thirds of the remaining oil reserves will be in the Middle East, the most politically unstable and volatile region of the world. What this means is that countries still dependent on oil will be locked into a fierce geopolitical struggle to maintain access to the remaining oil fields of the Middle East, with all of the grave risks and consequences that accompany that sober reality.

The difference in perspective between Europe and America on this score is reflected in the attitudes of the world's giant energy companies. The European-based energy giants, British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, have made a long-term commitment to making the transition out of fossil fuels and are spending large amounts of money on renewable technologies and hydrogen research and development. BP's new slogan is "Beyond Petroleum" and Philip Watts, chairman of the committee of managing directors of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, has stated publicly that his company is preparing for the end of the hydrocarbon age and is actively exploring the promise of the hydrogen economy. By contrast, the American energy company, Exxon Mobil, has remained steadfast in its long-term commitment to fossil fuels with little effort being expended on renewables and the exploration of hydrogen-based research development.

The EU is now in a unique position to lay claim to the future by becoming the first superpower to make the long-term shift out of carbon-based fuels and into a hydrogen era. A change in energy regimes of this magnitude over the course of the next half century is likely to have as profound an impact on human society as the harnessing of coal and steam power more than three centuries ago. The fossil-fuel era forever changed our living patterns, our notion of commerce and governance, and the values we live by. So too will the coming hydrogen economy.

At some point, the reality is going to set in that Europe is heading into a new energy future. When that happens, the ripple effect could cross the pond like a great tsunami - forcing the US to rethink its own energy future. The last time the US was awakened from its somnambulance was 1957 when the Russians sent their first satellite into outer space. Caught by surprise, it mobilised every corner of American society to the task of catching up and surpassing the Russians. Maybe it's time for another jolt

- Skinny 10-20-2002 6:21 pm [link] [add a comment]

Apocalypse Wow presents...

Rockstars Against the War

Yeah, silly, we know. Still, you should get on the bus.

Send an email here for more info. Or just sign up here.

[edit: fixed the rsvp link. Thanks alex.]
- jim 10-16-2002 8:38 pm [link] [5 comments]

Super Bird
- steve 10-16-2002 8:22 am [link] [3 comments]

 Oct. 14 —  A mummified dinosaur from Montana has revealed how the creature looked and how it lived 77 million years ago — down to the texture of its skin and the contents of its stomach, scientists say.  

- steve 10-16-2002 8:17 am [link] [add a comment]

I'm finally getting a respite from nuisance calls. Not a one in the last few days. If you use an old fashioned phone they're worse than spam, at least if you retain that archaic reflex to actually answer the phone. I think they're on some automated cycle that dares you to give up before they do. It wasn't so much the one for someone with a name similar (but not identical) to mine, but for the last month I was getting, twice a day, a prerecorded call of such low quality that I could never quite make out what it was about, but which was notable for its sheer chutzpa, as expressed in the closing admonition: "even if you don't want to talk to us, please give us a call just to let us know." Uh, yeah, right…
By the way, I'm now getting spam in my dmtree mailbox, which never used to happen…

- alex 10-16-2002 12:12 am [link] [add a comment]

The Watcher

The television is on.....blah, blah, blah,

I am watching it.....

Am I?

No! it's watching me.....!

Terrified, I quickly turn it off...!

Pablo Weisz-Carrington

- linda 10-14-2002 6:13 pm [link] [add a comment]




having a really bad day over here with this most idiotic of companies.

did you know that if a twc emloyee gives you their personal extension it is IMPOSSIBLE to ever get to that extension by way of the main number they give you to call them?

did you know if you finally get someone on the fone that person is not allowed to transfer you to another extension?

- linda 10-11-2002 10:35 pm [link] [add a comment]

What is up with the Republicans in congress? Have they taken to mispronouncing the word nuclear in the hopes that we might think George W. pronounces it correctly?
- steve 10-09-2002 5:45 am [link] [1 comment]

Take the pledge and let the Democrats in Congress hear you.

- linda 10-09-2002 12:18 am [link] [add a comment]

- Skinny 10-08-2002 2:07 am [link] [2 comments]


- bill 10-07-2002 6:01 pm [link] [1 comment]

October 26 in DC....
- Skinny 10-07-2002 3:30 pm [link] [19 comments]

jim, shouldnt you be a node?
- dave 10-07-2002 7:15 am [link] [2 comments]

It's strange to me that some weeks Thomas Friedman seems like a lunatic, and other times he seems to be the only person who can say the obvious truth. Today I'm right with him:

Where are the Democrats who would declare that the best way to enhance our security, make us better global citizens, reduce our dependence on Middle East oil and leave a better planet for our kids is a Manhattan Project to develop a renewable energy source...?
Yes yes yes.
- jim 10-06-2002 8:45 pm [link] [add a comment]

Tonight I watched a dvd on my new computer. Upon inserting the disk a window opened with the option of setting the region or ejecting the disk. It also informed me that I would only be able to set the region 6 more times. I didn't like the sounds of it but I went ahead and chose to set the region and the dvd began playing immediately.
I've read this article and although I feel I now understand what the regions are and why they exist, I'm wondering if anyone has advice on whether I should get some software that let's me get around this region jazz.
Any thoughts Jim?
I found this line from the article interesting "If on the other-hand you plan to purchase DVDs from other regions (which might or might not be illegal) then making your DVD player capable of playing all regions is the best and cheapest way to go." So being an American and purchasing a dvd in say, London may be illegal?
Also, region codes may actually be illegal in New Zealand and violate some World Trade Organization laws?
Hey, I said I found it interesting, not surprising.
- steve 10-06-2002 3:09 pm [link] [4 comments]

Before buying the new computer I attended an anti-war march in downtown Portland.
The press is saying that there were almost 5000 people, it looked like more than that to me, course us protesters always seem to stretch the numbers. Although many of the protesters seemed to be in their mid-50's and to be old hands at marching, there were lots of seniors and teens, even the locked out brothers of the ILWU.
I've decided that almost any panel from Get Your War On would make an awsome poster. Here's GYWO page 15
- steve 10-06-2002 7:44 am [link] [add a comment]

Been working a little bit lately, enough so that I'm posting from my new Imac with 17" display.
10.2 seems pretty cool. So is having a dvd player/burner.
Seems that you have to launch netscape in "classic" (OS 9.2) mode though.
I'll be downloading Mozilla and Rea7 player asap.
- steve 10-06-2002 7:16 am [link] [3 comments]

Out of all languages presently spoken in the world, what percentage are spoken in NYC?

I have no idea, but I'm very curious. I'll guess 70% just to get things going. Probably it's much less than that. Or possibly there is no way to even get a grip on the number of different languages spoken in the world.

Any guesses? Any idea where to look for possible answers?
- jim 10-06-2002 5:04 am [link] [2 comments]

That feature Jim was talking about a couple of weeks ago, used I think only once by Alex, and brought up again by Linda, that automatic posting in the future feature--is that, as Jim implied, a total bust, a feature with too many bugs, or could it be dusted off and tried again? I was just getting ready to use it when you removed it. Is there a worst that could happen, not worth the risk sort of thing going on here, and would it be wasting Jim's time? I was looking for a way, by visiting online only once a week or so, to do a gradual, maybe everyday time release of the remaining old NOLA crap.
- jimlouis 10-05-2002 8:57 pm [link] [2 comments]

A pair of nuns just walked by
- jimlouis 10-05-2002 8:40 pm [link] [1 comment]

I've had some problems with transmission at Dumaine so this is the first got up the nerve time to try a library machine. I have come all the way up Canal to an affluent lakefront neighborhood because I reasoned rich people would all have machines at home. My hypothesis has proved true. But I'm sitting here at an expose machine right by the checkout, weird.
- jimlouis 10-05-2002 8:33 pm [link] [1 comment]

Atlas of the Universe
- alex 10-04-2002 6:21 pm [link] [11 comments]

Bad news for trees.
- alex 10-04-2002 5:42 pm [link] [add a comment]

i was lucky enough to be at the museum today when a few people from the library got to go on a tour of the beetle collection, and i tagged along. the museum has about 17 million insect specimens and over a million are beetles. pretty amazing. the scientist who showed us around just finished a 2,000 page paper on one particular beetle. and back in his office we got to see one (with a microscope) which is the only known specimen of its kind.

back in the fifties (or sixties maybe) a very large african beetle was found in a shipment of bananas at one of the ports, and was sent over to the museum to be checked out. turned out to be harmles, so the entomology people kept him as a pet. when he died the times ran an obit -- with a photo.

did you know that fireflies are a type of beetle?
- linda 9-28-2002 4:21 am [link] [3 comments]

anybody needs to watch the first four episodes of the sopranos can download them with kazaa by searching for "Sopranos pre-air." not a broadcast quality picture but not terrible either.
- dave 9-27-2002 8:39 pm [link] [add a comment]