How Horse Manure Could Change the Future of Energy

horse1Photo: naturelady

Cars lead to pollution, right? And pollution leads to global warming, right? And global warming leads to the (eventual) end of the world, right? And, despite knowing all this, we stick with our cars and love them, lavishly filling their bellies with natural gas that comes from the beautifully-crafted deep-sea wells that never, ever have a problem, right again?

bpPhoto: Jane Fulton

Finger pointing at BP aside, it’s not entirely correct to say that cars lead to pollution and QED. In fact, for those intent on admonishing the public for the continued use of cars as opposed to, say, old-fashioned locomotive items like horses, it would behoove – behoof? – them to consider the pollution that proceeded exhaust: horse crap.

Now, I know that this sounds like some Trey Parker-inspired history lesson, but hear me out. Before cars, the main method of individualistic transportation was the horse. Street cars and the railroad were good for certain uses, but nothing beat the versatility of the horse. However, before your mental image of Jimmy Stewart on a muscular, taught steed gallops into the horizon, let’s make some quick cut-and-pastes. First, place a cobblestone road underneath his horse’s hooves. Second, chop out the trees, brush grass, streams, valleys, generic foliage and paste in sidewalks, gutters, shops, houses, the homeless, crowds and more crowds. Third, change the sky from a bright, breathy blue to a dingy gray, and voila: Jimmy Stewart and steed in any urban center at the turn of the last century. Oh, wait, we forgot something: piles of horse feces, several feet tall, absolutely everywhere.

The mounds of horse feces were both good and bad.

Hear me out.

Bad: Beyond the obvious smelly/mushy/vomit-inducing effects, the dust created by the crushing of the feces between horse hooves and the road was credited with spreading disease and raising the rates of respiratory distress. Further, as disgruntled opera goers complained about getting some of the horses’ business on their fancy footwear, municipal governments began to sell the manure for fertilizer; however, this then made collecting feces more profitable than collecting regular garbage, so garbage piles replaced poop piles and the stinky situation soured.

horse-poop-signPhoto: Joe Loveland

Good: With crap piles as ubiquitous as taxis in New York, innovators like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were inspired to invent new technology to reduce the poop pollution. Which, I’m sure we can all agree, we’re very lucky that they did.

Henry Ford and carPhoto: The Henry Ford

Of course, for those of you following along at home, the irony is clear – since the horse was replaced by Ford’s “horseless carriage,” global pollution levels have significantly increased. As polluted as the streets and local air were with feces and methane gas, the overall planetary system has experienced an increase in CO2 emissions due to the highly exothermic combustion reactions that automobile engineers take advantage of when creating engines. So, as we debate how to cut our carbon footprint and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, we can either find alternative and cleaner forms of energy, or just purchase a few extra pairs of those cute and stylish galoshes as we revert back to the old system and wade through piles of horse crap.

Sources: 1, 2, 3