Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Green: Your Place in the New Energy Revolution by Jane and Michael Hoffman.
Greenwashing is what happens when a hopeful public eager to behave responsibly about the environment is presented with "evidence" that makes an industry or a politician seem friendly to the environment when, in fact, the industry or the politician is not as wholly amicable as it or he might be. We touched on this concept when we talked about the Christmas tree-growing industry presenting partial evidence of its ecobenefits—tree farms as carbon sinks—while neglecting to mention the polluting pesticides or harvesting helicopters. Greenwashing is a marketing strategy, and one the public might grow ever more susceptible to as our need for energy expands and the CO2 in our atmosphere continues to accumulate. As we grow ever more anxious for answers to our energy problems, we need to foster a healthy skepticism and understand that some of the answers that result won't be wholly reliable.
Let's use the commercials for hydrogen-powered cars that are starting to make appearances on television as an example. BMW, Honda, Ford, and Mazda are some of the carmakers whose research and development of hydrogen-fueled cars was begun early on. Therefore, these companies are likely to be the leading manufacturers in bringing this new technology to the market.
So far, so good. Few people dispute the potential benefits of hydrogen technology. Hydrogen-powered cars produce no tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases or other pollutants, which augurs well for climate change concerns, and using hydrogen as a replacement for oil speaks eloquently to the need and desire for energy security. What's more, engineers are optimistic that these cars of the future can offer the consumer roomy interiors, sleek design, high efficiency, and good performance. Even better, right? When can we take delivery? Commercials even now seem to prepare viewers for the imminent introduction of these hydrogen-powered cars; the commercials are, however, at best misleading.
First of all, let's talk about the process of making hydrogen fuel. There is no "alchemy" involved in hydrogen technology, as one carmaker claims. It is a function of hard science that isolates hydrogen molecules and allows them to be transferred into the energy needed to run a car. Although the idea of car emissions amounting to no more than pure water and steam may seem like magic—and, indeed, that's all emissions from hydrogen-powered cars amount to—dirty work happens in isolating the hydrogen molecules in the first place. Making hydrogen fuel takes energy, and right now that energy comes from—you guessed it—coal or oil or natural gas.