BERLIN – Green hydrogen is all the rage these days. During November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany will invest more than €4 billion ($4.3 billion) in developing a market for it. In the United States, President Joe Biden’s administration has made “clean” hydrogen a centerpiece of its Inflation Reduction Act, which provides subsidies for renewable energies. China, too, is so invested in electrolysis that some observers already fear that it will take over the market the same way it did with photovoltaic panels. And even corporations like the Australian mining giant Fortescue are betting on it becoming a multibillion-dollar industry.
When a technology is hyped to such an extent, many environmental activists tend to become nervous. Is “clean hydrogen” merely a way to greenwash so-called “blue” and “pink” hydrogen, generated from natural gas and nuclear energy, respectively? Is it an attempt to produce a magic techno-fix that vindicates absurd excesses like space tourism and hypersonic flight, when the world’s middle and upper classes should be shrinking their energy and resource consumption? Or is this the next stage of extractivism, appropriating low-income populations’ land and water under the guise of fighting climate change?