Yglesias linked to this piece on the role of the horse in transportation in 19th century America.  I found it utterly fascinating.  It was not a pretty scene.

And what goes in must come out. Experts of the day estimated that each horse produced between fifteen and thirty pounds of manure per day. For New York and Brooklyn, which had a combined horse population of between 150,000 and 175,000 in 1880 (long before the horse population reached its peak), this meant that between three and fourmillion pounds ofmanure were deposited on city streets and in city stables every day…

As a result of this glut (which became particularly severe in summer months when farmers were unable to leave their crops to collect the dung), vacant lots in cities across America became piled high with manure; in  New York these sometimes rose to forty and even sixty feet. Needless to say, these were not particularly beloved by the inhabitants of the nineteenth-century city.

And here’s the conclusion:

Yet, given the environmental problems that the automobile has brought, it is worth asking: was this a Faustian bargain?

In all probability the answer is no. Perhaps in total the negative externalities produced by the automobile are greater than the damage caused by the urban horse, but this is because the numbers of vehicles and the amount of travel have skyrocketed. Per vehicle and per mile, it seems highly likely that the environmental problems caused by the horse were far greater than those of the modern car. Horses even contribute to global warming:manure releases methane, a greenhouse gas eight timesmore potent that CO2 .

Yowza.  Happy to have my Corolla.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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