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Argument: Hydrogen cars are not a means of distracting from electric cars

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Amory Lovins, CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute. "Twenty Hydrogen Myths". 20 June 2003 - Myth #20. The Bush Administration’s hydrogen program is just a smokescreen to stall adoption of the hybrid-electric and other efficient car designs available now, and wraps fossil and nuclear energy in a green disguise. Most environmentalists — perhaps resentful that President Bush has stolen some of their thunder — think FreedomCAR and the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative are a stall, not a leapfrog, and consider the President’s hydrogen announcement mere greenwash for stealthy, rhetorically attractive, but generally anti-environmental substantive policies. (Conversely, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board — apparently as unwilling to credit any idea environmentalists agree with as environmentalists are to credit any idea the President agrees with — attacks the President’s “reasons for funding hydrogen cars [as] neither smart nor honest.”2) The White House’s opposition to significant near-term gains in car efficiency unfortunately foments the doubtless unworthy suspicion that hydrogen is being wielded as a political weapon of mass distraction. That lingering odor would best be dispelled by developing and deploying hydrogen to displace most or all petroleum motor fuel in the long run while also saving a lot of oil in the short run by aggressively encouraging hybrid-electric powertrains and other straightforward, available technological improvements that cost less than today’s gasoline. Policy and credibility would also be improved by adding hydrogen dollars to the energy R&D budget rather than appearing to take them out of efficiency and renewables accounts.

Both the long-term hydrogen goals and the short-term car-efficiency goals are worthy, in sequence and in coordination; they also support each other, so there’s no reason not to do both. Let the short-term measures support the long- term ones (e.g., by making cars more efficient and electric traction cheaper), and let them both compete fairly. If we don’t, the losers will be Detroit (as foreign competitors take more market share), the Earth, American customers and taxpayers, and their economy, public health, and global security. But if we do, then hydrogen advocates’ utopian visions of a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous world may be right on the money.

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