Smell the Gazprom

One day there'll be a world free of dirty fossil fuels. In the meantime, Russia's natural gas smells good.

Published: 13-Jan-2006

p;HAD A DREAM once. It was a grand daydream, global in scope and yet entirely selfish. It was brought on by a morning immersed in The Los Angeles Times followed by an afternoon in a clapped-out convertible in the traffic jams of Hollywood.

The traffic was pumping out its usual brew of carcinogenic bad stuff, shrouding the hills in smog. The Los Angeles Times had pumped out thousands of wildly optimistic words on the imminent glories of fuel cells, which would soon be powering all our cars with nary a carbon emission to choke on. In my delirium, the fuel cells neutralised the smog, and the LA basin, beneath blazingly clear skies, was suddenly a-thrum with thousands of extras from Sleeper, pootling around behind Woody Allen in zero-polluting dune buggies.

It got worse. A kindly environmental fund manager explained that fuel cells would soon be powering the entire future, not just cars. The hydrogen needed to power them would come from the wind and the waves and, above all, the sun, beating down on vast arrays of mirrors near somewhere called Boron in the Mojave Desert. Fossil fuels would be a dark smudge on history. So I did what any smart investor would have done. I went out and spent $5,000 more than I could afford, which is to say $5,000, on shares in a Canadian fuel cell company.

The first sign that this may have been unwise was the failure of dozens of excited forecasts of the death of oil to come true. These forecasts were based on M. King Hubbert’s theory of “peak oil”. Mr Hubbert, an American geophysicist of unimpeachable integrity, correctly predicted that domestic US oil production would peak around 1970 and go into steady decline as the US oil industry found more lucrative uses for its profits than ploughing them back into domestic oil exploration. Others used his methods to predict a global production peak in 2000 — but it didn’t happen.

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'AT BREAK OF DAY all dreams, they say, are true.' So wrote the great English poet John Dryden (1631 - 1700) in his work entitled The Spanish Friar. The implication, of course, is that as the day wears on the press of reality prevents some dreams from being fulfilled. This is an article about airplanes, but it also concerns the dreams that animateprogress.

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