Humans have invented fantastic methods for transportation that allow us to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles without breaking a sweat, but the degree to which this is costing our environment may be to great to sustain much longer. Carbon emissions have increased by almost ten fold in the past century, with one of the largest contributors being transportation emissions. We have all heard about how carbon emissions are likely causing global warming, which is causing many species to go extinct or lose their habitats. However, most people are more interested in their own best interests than species that they do not interact with. Us humans and the habitats we live in are affected more than most think. The dramatic increase in carbon emissions is causing sea levels to rise, water supplies to shrink, pollution, ocean acidification, and changes in food supply. We must realize that these effects have the potential to adversely affect the amount of time we humans have left on Earth. Yes, I am talking about the conservation of humans.
Thankfully, a study from the Journal of Biological Engineering conducted by Dr. Barstow at Harvard Medical School has recently discovered a way to potentially stop using carbon based fuels like gasoline that contribute to carbon emissions for energy and start using hydrogen for clean and efficient energy. The authors of, “A synthetic system links FeFe-hydrogenases to essential E. coli sulfur metabolism” talk about how hydrogenases from certain organisms can create hydrogen from protons and electrons (Barstow, Harvard Medical School, Journal of Biological Engineering). We could then use this hydrogen as energy in fuel cells, which are already around today. This could reverse some of the damages we have made to ourselves and the ecosystems we rely on.
First, the rate at which sea levels are rising could be greatly reduced if we switched from burning carbon based fuels to using hydrogen. Right now, many people living on coastal communities are losing their homes due to rising sea levels. This is only expected to get worse, as it is expected that parts of southern Florida will be completely underwater by as early as 2025. Not only are rising sea levels causing the displacement of people, but they are causing water supplies to shrink. This is because as sea water gets into freshwater the freshwater becomes salinated, making water treatment necessary. Also, as severe weather becomes more common we see more droughts were we have water shortages, like in California. Additionally, runoff in areas where flooding is more frequent causes pollutants to get into our water, which also makes water treatment necessary. If we do not take appropriate measures to stop this soon, future generations may not have enough water to survive. The first major step we can take is getting rid of old fashioned energy and upgrading to clean hydrogen energy.
An engine that runs on hydrogen produces almost no pollution. Jennifer Gangi, Director of Communications and Outreach for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA) said in a press release from July of 2016 that, “the FCHEA… confirm the impact these technologies [fuel cells and hydrogen energy technologies] are making on today’s energy landscape”. This could drastically decrease the amount of pollution that is in the atmosphere, causing health problems in many areas and acid rain which affects the oceans and seafood we eat.
by Adam Gautsch licensed under CC 2.0
Lastly, increases in carbon emissions are causing poorer conditions for crops. For example, the U.S. Global Change Research Program has said the recent drought in California caused decreased yields for many major crops, causing prices to increase. If conditions worsen due to increased carbon emissions, major crop producing areas like California may not be able to provide food for large populations in the future. If we plan to keep producing mass amounts of food for our growing populations, it is crucial that we use hydrogenases to make hydrogen for clean fuel. Many would argue that hydrogen has not yet been recognized as an alternative energy source and will take a while to be converted to. I would argue that if carbon emissions are given the right negative attention and hydrogen positive attention, people will recognize that an immediate change is necessary.
Even if we disregard the effects we have on other species, we cannot keep ignoring that the state of our planet is becoming less and less healthy for us to live on. If we care about protecting future generations, we must start by ending the era of carbon based fuels, and switch to hydrogen.
Barstow et al, 2011. A synthetic system links FeFehydrogenases to essential E. coli sulfur metabolism. Journal of Biological Engineering 5:7.