How Polluting is Your Car, On a Scale of 1 to Horse Manure?
It's fashionable to decry the horrid pollution of gas guzzling, emission belching, fossil fuel cars. But how do they compare to life in late nineteenth century urban America? (I'll re-use this quote from my last reading idea.)
Even the wastes of horses were commodified. The collection of urban manure had old, even ancient roots. Again, the process is most easily documented in New York City. Before 1878, individuals roamed the street and picked up manure. In that year the Common Council supposedly sold an exclusive license to a William Hitchcock, who sold the street sweepings to farmers for fertilizer. Street sweepings varied in quality and were worth more if from an asphalt street than if from a gravel street or a dirty alley. They were always worth less than stable manure, a purer product. The older pattern of individuals collecting street manure for urban gardens never fully went away, and as late as the first half of the twentieth century neighborhood children in the Italian American neighborhood of East Harlem did a thriving business collecting horse manure from the streets for backyard gardens in the area.
Say what you will about my Toyota Sienna minivan, but no one will ever have to step in, smell, or sweep up any poop from it. Modern life is far cleaner, healthier, and more hygienic thanks to the widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine. It's not the sexiest technology, but I'm very happy to have it.