There’s been much talk this past year about how to re-build the World Trade Center. The New York Times has examined numerous design proposals, and regularly updates readers on the lingering debate over what they should look like and how they might honor the dead. But alongside re-making big buildings, we ought to be laying the foundation for a clean energy future, one that will end our oil dependency that so profoundly figures into world tensions and the continued destruction of the global environment.
Clean, renewable hydrogen holds great promise for freeing us from our oil habit, and from the social and economic inequalities bound up with it. As Jeremy Rifkin points out in our lead story, a hydrogen economy can be decentralized and locally controlled, helping to create a more equitable world economic order, one in which everyone’s basic needs can be met.
In toppling the WTC, the 9/11 terrorists were attacking symbols of American economic power. As Michael Moore infers in his compelling new film, Bowling for Columbine, America’s war on terrorism could be fought, in part, by ending the hypocrisy of our close friendship with the dictatorial Arab oil states on the one hand, and our complicity in keeping down the poorer, non-oil producing Arab/Muslim states on the other. In exchange for cheap oil, we indirectly financed the people that supplanted Pearl Harbor with a new "Day of Infamy" that now has many Americans fearfully subscribing to George W. Bush’s one-note agenda.
It could be said that—for reasons pertaining to both our oil dependency and our slowness at cutting that cord—we currently operate in a "fossil economy."And ironically, though oil itself has been around a long time, its use as a fuel actually dates back only 100 years. It’s destined to wind up an historical footnote very soon, regardless of whose calculations you believe about how much is left under Iraq, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Our energy future belongs to hydrogen, and the "H" we’ve created on our cover from the 9/11 memorial could stand for "Hope." But hydrogen isn’t free; it has to be extracted from fossil fuels or, preferably, from water. To do that we can use renewable energy—solar, wind power, biomass—creating a completely clean loop. Or we can use nuclear power, with all of its attendant waste and contamination dangers. Unfortunately, the Bush administration sees hydrogen as a convenient hook on which to hang its desired nuclear revival. The Democrats could block that, but their blow-with-the-wind tendencies and timid performance on many issues means that strong and united support for a sensible hydrogen transition might be a tall order.
The Bush administration’s new hydrogen initiative looks good on the surface, but it needs to be closely watched. There is reason for hope, for sure, but we can’t let hydrogen be hijacked by the same forces that removed the solar panels from the White House roof in the Reagan era. And we also can’t move forward with any energy plan under notions that America’s energy guzzling lifestyles are "non-negotiable."