Hydrogen: Its Future Can Solve Pressing National Problems
by Paul Hirsch, President, Madison Government Affairs
I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting
of the California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC) on 4 June 1997 in Long
Beach, California, U.S.A. The CHBC is the brainchild of Dave
Haberman and David Moard, members of the NHA and businessmen. They seek
to further the commercialization of hydrogen through program and project
development. The meeting was attended by more than two dozen companies and
private entrepreneurs. The creation of councils and coalitions to commercialize
hydrogen as well as to put pressure on business, industry, and government
officials (both elected and executive branch) is necessary if this technology
is to get beyond the horse and buggy stage in which it presently
My background is not in science or technology.
I have spent the last 25+ years working in and around government in the
area of military installations and congressional affairs. I had the honor
to serve as the Director of Review and Analysis for the first Defense Base
Closure and Realignment Commission in 1991. As many of you know, there were
two subsequent Commissions in 1993 and 1995. The three Commissions closed
approximately 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. Department of Defenses
military installations. The new Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, has
asked [the U.S.] Congress for the authority to have two more rounds of base
closings. It is evident that the Department of Defense cannot conduct its
perceived mission at its current level of funding. Now is the time to address
our military role in the world.
I believe there is a significant connection to
the downsizing of the [U.S.] Department of Defense and the commercialization
of hydrogen. Hydrogen can be the answer to solving two of this nations
most pressing problems. First, as an alternative to fossil fuel usage, hydrogen
would significantly improve the air quality of our environment as well as
the personal medical condition of millions of Americans. Second, if properly
integrated into our national energy policy, the use of hydrogen would mitigate
the need to size our armed forces to protect our interest in international
oil fields. A theatre conflict like Desert Shield/Desert Storm would not
have to be anticipated by our military planners and would, thereby, reduce
the need to budget over US$250 billion annually for national defense. If
we could save a mere 10 percent of our defense budget, where could we spend
or invest US$25 billion annually? Im sure that amount of money could
be put to good use in education, medicine research and development, and
The United States has always depended on imported
oil to meet the demands of our people and industries. At the time of the
Gulf War, one in four barrels of oil used in this country was imported from
the Middle East. Europe and Japan are even more dependent on imported sources
of energy to fuel their ever-expanding national needs. Emerging technologies
and sources of energy such as hydrogen will reduce or eliminate the requirement
to import oil. These developments will improve our quality of life and limit
the requirement to place our American military in harms way. The development
of new energy technologies must be moved forward because national dependency
on imported oil will only undermine our national security.
Historically, wars have been fought based on a
number of influences. Our War of Independence and the Civil War were fought
over ideological or societal differences. Another force that has led to
conflict between nations is the quest for natural resources to fuel a nations
economy and growth. Japanese expansion in the Pacific in the 1920s and 30s
and World War II were a result of two factorsthe need to defend the
home islands and a severe requirement for natural resources that were lacking
in their own country.
Clearly, the confrontation and eventual military
action against Iraq in Desert Shield/Storm was about natural resources.
Our role was about the protection of our lifeline to the industrial ageoil.
The rhetoric about protecting democracy etc., etc., was just thatrhetoric.
The real issue was protecting Kuwaiti and Saudi oil fields from an aggressor
who was and would continue to be anti-American. Our national economy was
and is dependent on foreign imported oil. We are fortunate that we are not
as dependent as our friends in Europe. Nevertheless, the United States of
America has developed a national military strategy, and deployed fighting
forces, based on the protection of oil-producing countries. For the last
40 years, our military has been sized to fight another superpower; therefore,
it was easy to justify the large numbers of military personnel and equipment.
However, since the fall of European communism, our need for a large military
force has come into questionespecially, given the aforementioned environment
and budgetary needs that require attention.
The American people are looking to our national
leaders to address domestic issues in a manner that they have not been addressed
in the past. Therefore, is there a way to address our domestic needs while
we remain the country that the world looks to in the solving of international
problems and conflicts, given that we are the sole remaining superpower?
While the American people apparently have decided that we can live with
a smaller military, any national leader who allows our military to be embarrassed
or defeated will eventually pay the price at the election booth.
Is there a way to achieve a smaller military without risking
failure or disaster? The answer lies in the development of a military strategy
whereby we size our force to protect our interests and not based on the
need to protect other nations natural resources which we covet. If
we were energy self-sufficient or were able to live, work, and prosper without
the need for enormous amounts of foreign oil, we could rightsize
our military forces to protect our shores while still serving the role as
a tool of American foreign policy. A rightsized military budget
would free up significant amounts of money to address other societal problems.
So why the reluctance to turn to technology
to solve our problems? There are several alternative energy agendas that
should be fervently explored and exploited to remove our nation from the
grip of imported oil. Unfortunately, fossil fuel (imported, that is) is
still relatively inexpensive in comparison to the new and emerging technologies.
Therefore, it is easier, or at least it has been in the past, to continue
on the same worn path. Another given is that America responds much more
decisively and passionately when there is a crisis. It is difficult, if
not impossible, for our national leaders to move us in a new direction without
a crisis looming on the horizon.
Well, that crisis may again rear its ugly head.
The threat of another war in Southwest Asia is always a possibility before
we cross the bridge to the 21st Century. Will we be able to muster a fighting
force of 500,000 Americans to protect our oil-dependent economy? Or, will
we have begun developing, in earnest, alternative and renewable energy sources
to wean us from our dependency on fossil fuel?
We are at the brink of a new century. It has been
talked about by our national leaders, both Republican and Democrat, and
it is now time to grasp existing technologies and create new technologies
that can enhance our quality of life. Would it not be wonderful to drive
through a smog-free southern California? Or to spend our time and energies
on solving our problems in our cities?
This can be done if we embrace new and emerging
technologies. We must not waste our resources and energies by adhering to
methods and policies that should have become obsolete years ago. It is incumbent
on all of us to ask our leaders to look for new ways to solve our problems.
Is not hydrogen one resource that should be looked at to provide answers
to our problems?
[Paul Hirsch is a government relations consultant with more than 25
years of experience. He is President of Madison Government Affairs, with
offices in Washington, D.C., and Newport News, Virginia, U.S.A. He can be
contacted at +1.202.347.1223 or via eMail at [email protected].]
©1997. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of
the National Hydrogen Association.
This material may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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