From Horse Poo to CO2: How Human Ingenuity Can Clean Up More Than Just the Streets

Maria Irene

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bustling cities like New York and London found themselves in the throes of a crisis so pungent it couldn’t be ignored—horse manure. As horses trotted down the cobblestone streets pulling carriages and trams, they left behind a trail of waste. The issue was more than just unpleasant; it was a health hazard and a logistical nightmare. But then came the motor vehicle, a technological marvel that all but made the horse-drawn carriage obsolete. And just like that, the problem of horse manure vanished, leaving many to marvel at how an issue that once seemed insurmountable could be swept away by human ingenuity and innovation.

Fast forward to today, and the world is gripped by a crisis of an even more staggering scale—climate change. In the same way that cities a century ago relied on horses, our modern society has been built on a foundation of fossil fuels. The consequences have been dire. Rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and extreme weather events have become our generation’s ‘horse manure,’ and the stench is becoming unbearable.

If history teaches us anything, it’s that humans are adept at using technology to solve the problems we’ve created for ourselves. The motor vehicle solved the horse manure crisis, and today, emerging technologies in renewable energy may be our best shot at mitigating the effects of climate change. Wind, solar, and hydroelectric power are no longer the pipe dreams of environmentalists; they are becoming economically viable alternatives to fossil fuel consumption. Moreover, advances in battery storage and smart grid technology are making these renewables more reliable and efficient, capable of meeting our insatiable energy needs without choking the planet.

But technology alone may not be our silver bullet; it needs to be accompanied by sound public policy and global cooperation. A century ago, cities imposed regulations that helped manage the horse manure problem. They mandated cleanup efforts, invested in road maintenance, and eventually, made way for automobiles by building better infrastructure. Today, international agreements like the Paris Accord and domestic policies such as carbon pricing aim to do the same for greenhouse gases. They set emissions targets and incentivize the use of clean energy, steering us in a direction that might save our planet from overheating.

As we navigate this crisis, it’s worth remembering that technology and policy are most effective when they work in tandem. Both are products of human creativity and foresight, two qualities that have helped us survive and thrive in a world fraught with challenges. Whether it’s developing carbon capture techniques or engineering new forms of sustainable agriculture, innovation is at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis. So the next time you hear someone argue that climate change is too big a problem to solve, remind them of the horse manure crisis. Remind them that history is rife with examples of seemingly insurmountable problems that were eventually overcome by the indomitable spirit of human ingenuity.

The climate crisis is undoubtedly one of the most daunting challenges we’ve ever faced. But if the story of horse manure and the cities that overcame it teach us anything, it’s that no problem is too big, no crisis too great, that it can’t be solved by the human mind. All we need is the will to act, the creativity to innovate, and the wisdom to implement changes that will benefit us all. The question isn’t whether we can overcome this crisis, but when we will decide to do so. Let’s hope that decision comes soon, lest the stench of our inaction becomes too overwhelming to bear.

This article is inspired by an earlier podcast by Peter Schiff on global warming

Reading List

  1. The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough – While not about environmental issues, this book is a testament to human ingenuity and problem-solving skills.
  2. “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” by David JC MacKay – This book delves into the numbers behind various forms of sustainable energy, demonstrating the viability of technological solutions to the climate crisis.
  3. “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” edited by Paul Hawken – This book offers a list of actionable items that could help mitigate climate change, showcasing human ingenuity and practical solutions.
  4. “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert – This book serves as a stark reminder of the environmental challenges we face but also discusses various efforts to combat them.
  5. “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler – This book argues that innovation and technology will solve our most pressing global issues, including environmental ones.
  6. “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America” by Thomas L. Friedman – Friedman argues for the importance of green technology and innovation in solving both America’s and the world’s environmental and energy issues.
  7. “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley – This book talks about how human innovation has solved various crises throughout history and remains our best tool for the future.
  8. “SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – The book devotes a chapter to innovative, albeit controversial, ways to combat global warming.

 

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