Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Pork Barrel PR 

The governor of California (and if you don't know who he is, where have you been?) dedicated the first-ever hydrogen gas station for refueling autos yesterday. The story is here. I had to laugh as I read the story because it is hardly clear that hydrogen will ever become the fuel of the future. That is also the conclusion of a story in the May 2004 Scientific American that cast doubt on the concept.

Of course, that is not the worry of the governor. I suspect the governor cares not at all whether hydrogen goes anywhere. What the governor wants to show is PROGRESS. We're doing something about the air and fuel crisis. Hydrogen is a symbol and not a reality. In fact, the betting is that unless there is some massive technical breakthrough, hydrogen fuel cells will never be a reality.

Where is our more efficient engine going to come from? Why the same internal combustion engine that we have been using since the late 1800s or its cousin, the diesel. But that isn't sexy. It is much better to talk about fuel cells and the pie-in-sky promises of them. It's better PR.

I've seen a lot of pork barrel PR in my time, and this is one more example. California is not going to pay the tens of millions needed to make hydrogen fuel cells a reality. California doesn't have the money. Everyone will go to Washington with hat in hand and a romantic story about the future. That's the way this is done, and it is as fraudulent now as it was when it was first tried on George Washington. (Back then, it was canals that were going to change the transportation landscape of the country. George himself invested in one.)

It pays to be a cynic as a PR counselor. The old beat reporter who has seen it all is better fit to be in PR than the starry-eyed promoter who believes his own tales. But then, no one wants to hear the truth. The truth hurts: It doesn't make you free.


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