Buried under nine feet of manure: 19th century horse predictions

There is a big difference between the 19th century horse excrement crisis and the current 21st century energy crisis, similar as they may sound. One was real. The other is manufactured by the modern equivalent of stagecoach vendors.

Stephen Davies wrote for The Freeman 1 September 2004, The Great Horse-Manure Crisis of 1894,

In 1898 the first international urban-planning conference convened in New York. It was abandoned after three days, instead of the scheduled ten, because none of the delegates could see any solution to the growing crisis posed by urban horses and their output.

The problem did indeed seem intractable. The larger and richer that cities became, the more horses they needed to function. The more horses, the more manure. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed—by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilization was doomed.

Kimit Muston wrote for The Public I, 16 May 2013, Horse Sense,

In 1894 the “Times of London” predicted that midway through the 20th century the English capital would be buried under 9 feet of horse manure. In New York the pessimists were even more pessimistic, predicting that come 1930 road roses would be blocking third story windows, and one critic argued that 20,000 residents died every year indirectly because of horse manure.

The big difference is we already invented the solution: solar and wind power.

Sure, something like this was predicted back in the Ladies Home Journal of December 1900:

Prediction #6: Automobiles will be cheaper than horses are today. Farmers will own automobile hay-wagons, automobile truck-wagons, plows, harrows and hay-rakes. A one-pound motor in one of these vehicles will do the work of a pair of horses or more. Children will ride in automobile sleighs in winter. Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.

This may sound similar to the kind of manure Bjorn Lomborg flung the other day in the New York Times, The Poor Need Cheap Fossil Fuels,

THERE’S a lot of hand-wringing about our warming planet, but billions of people face a more immediate problem: They are desperately poor, and many cook and heat their homes using open fires or leaky stoves that burn dirty fuels like wood, dung, crop waste and coal.

About 3.5 million of them die prematurely each year as a result of breathing the polluted air inside their homes — about 200,000 more than the number who die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air outside, according to a study by the World Health Organization.

There’s no question that burning fossil fuels is leading to a warmer climate and that addressing this problem is important. But doing so is a question of timing and priority. For many parts of the world, fossil fuels are still vital and will be for the next few decades, because they are the only means to lift people out of the smoke and darkness of energy poverty.

Nevermind a million solar home systems in Bangladesh.

Update 19:30 5 Dec 2013: Fixed Ballmer date below and added the following paragraph here.

Nevermind distributed solar power already brings jobs, reduced electrical bills, and energy independence right to rural areas in the U.S., too, where all those things are most needed.

I smell more excrement from Lomborg:

The developed world needs a smarter approach toward cleaner fuels. The United States has been showing the way. Hydraulic fracturing has produced an abundance of inexpensive natural gas, leading to a shift away from coal in electricity production. Because burning natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, this technology has helped the United States reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the lowest level since the mid-1990s, even as emissions rise globally. We need to export this technology and help other nations exploit it.

The only people who “need” to export methane are fat cats like T. Boone Pickens and the Koch Brothers who want to add to their billions by gashing pipelines and fracking wells through other people’s land while methane leaks and speeds up climate change.

More smell from Lomborg:

At the same time, wealthy Western nations must step up investments into research and development in green energy technologies to ensure that cleaner energy eventually becomes so cheap that everyone will want it.

The difference is that solar is already cheaper than every other source of energy, and will keep getting even less expensive. There are already more solar than coal jobs, and more solar jobs than non-managerial jobs in oil and gas extraction. Solar will win like the Internet did. Those who don’t get that yet are like Steve Ballmer ridiculing the iPhone in 2007. That’s Steve Ballmer former CEO of Microsoft, who said in September 2003 2013:

Mobile devices. We have almost no share.

Like horses have almost no share of 21st century transportation.

We already know how to power entire states on sun, wind, water, and less natural gas than is in use now. We know how to power the whole U.S. the same way. And yes, we know how to power cars on sunshine. Tesla is selling so many electric cars it’s having to stall some customers while it ramps up production. Tesla, found to have no defects by German Federal Motor Transport Authority. Tesla, with ‘The Highest Owner-Satisfaction Score Consumer Reports Has Seen In Years’. Meanwhile, Cherolet, Ford, and of course Toyota already sell hybrid vehicles which can be adapted to plug in. And with solar panels on your roof, you’ve got a sun-powered car.

We just need to stop paying attention to manure thrown at us by fossil fuel and nuclear companies still wanting to sell us stagecoaches and buggy whips. Oh, and methane pipeline companies wanting to take our land to make a buck for executives in Houston and Juno Beach, Florida.

Let’s not go back into that dirty night. The sun is already rising on Georgia, the southeast, and the rest of the world. Look up!