Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Horse Pucky!

A Toastmasters meeting is always a treat.  Everyone is so positive and up-beat.  I belong to a club sponsored by the New York Society of Security Analysts.  No matter the time of day or season you can expect to meet some very interesting people.  I have become accustomed to meeting mountain climbers, Antarctica deep-sea divers, survivors of political oppression and civil wars. 

The speeches can be fascinating.  At a recent meeting one presentation made me pay particular attention.  It focused on a popular argument against formulating government policies on global warming.  The line of reasoning begins with the great horse manure conundrum of the late 1800s. 

As cities grew in over a century ago, the number of horses pulling passenger coaches, delivery trucks and all manner of vehicles crowded the streets.  Each horse left behind a considerable amount of manure.  Great mounds of horse excrement rose at the outskirts of late nineteenth century metropolitan areas.  It was not only a nuisance from an esthetic perspective.  Health was also at risk from the spread of disease by flies and other insects.

The agenda for an international conference of city planners held in New York in 1894 was dropped in favor of taking up the topic of horse manure and the solutions that would be needed.  Dire predictions of proportion and scope were bandied about at the conference and in the press forewarning the consequences of not addressing the issue. 

Of course, none of the manure-crisis predictions came to pass because the “horseless carriage” was rapidly adopted as an alternative to horse and buggy.  The great mounds of manure abated as the horse disappeared from the streets of London, Paris, New York, Chicago and every other large metropolitan area.  In highsight the threat was entirely overblown.

Those who argue against global warming policies point to this turn of events as proof that ugly situations take care of themselves. They argue there was no need to deal with horse manure because the automobile  -  already invented and plying the streets in 1894  -  would be the solution. This group points to the “unintended consequences” in meddling with nature based on faulty analysis.

It is a convenient proposition.  We need do nothing because there is some invention right in front of our eyes that will restore earth temperatures to normal, bringing back the polar ice and curing whatever is ailing the fast-disappearing frogs in the Amazon.  I like the idea.  It is cheap and expedient, avoiding the messy political wrangling necessary to reach a solution to rising earth temperatures.

I cannot help noting that the solution to the horse manure problem  -  the automobile powered by the combustion engine  -  is at the heart of the environmental problems we face today.  Is it not the proliferation of green house gases from automobile exchaust that has led to global warming?

Talk about unintended consequences!  We can now see that there were real reasons those city planners should have considered many more options than various ingenious ideas on how to remove horse pucky from city streets.  City planners did nothing, letting communities move from one menace to another.  Now instead of foul smells and germ infested flies in urban areas, the entire planet is at risk.

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