Hopeful news for us from the Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

By Larry Kummer. From the Fabius Maximus website.

 

Summary: We can better prepare for future threats by seeing how we defeated past ones. Here we compare a certain doom from the past with one in our future.

“We’re going to become extinct. Whatever we do now is too late.”
— Frank Fenner in The Australian, 10 June 2010. He is a Prof Emeritus in biology at the Australian National U; see his great accomplishments.

A future historian’s perspective on the Great Climate Crisis of 2018

The Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

“In 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”
— Headline in The Times from 1894. Famous but fake, accurately describing the views of that time.

In 1880, New York City had over 150,000 horses, a number which would rise in the next few decades. A horse produces 20+ pounds of manure and ~2 pints of urine per day. The manure flooded the market, so that farmers were paid to take it. Piles of manure were 50+ feet high. Dead and rotting horses littered the streets. All this attracted massive numbers of flies which spread typhoid fever and other diseases. Horse-drawn vehicles killed people at far higher rates than today’s vehicles. The first International Urban Planning Conference convened in New York in 1898 to solve this problem. Scheduled for 10 days, they gave up on the third day and went home. (See this article for more information.)

Change came as new energy sources replaced horses, powering subways, trolleys, buses, trucks, and cars. For example, the first electrified underground urban railway opened in 1890 in London. This technology became more useful with the invention of the multiple-unit train control in 1897. In a few decades, cities were far cleaner. The solutions were being invented while people were despairing about the impossibility of solutions.

These energy sources were not invented as a response to the inadequacies of horses but as part of the 1870-1950 industrial revolution. Their success does not mean we should expect new tech to meet critical needs without conscious effort on our part. Nor plan on solutions appearing just because we need them.

The lesson from this history is that people often assume problems are intractable – ignoring contrary evidence already visible.

Forecasts of doom from climate change

“In 2002, as I edited a book about global climate change, I concluded we had set events in motion that would cause our own extinction, probably by 2030. I mourned for months …”

— From “Apocalypse or extinction?” by Guy McPherson (Prof Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology, U AZ) in October 2009. In 2017 he predicted that our species will be extinct by 2026. He is the author of Extinction Dialogs: How to Live with Death in Mind (2014).

I have documented the increasing focus during the past three decades on doomster scenarios about climate change. See Ignoring science to convince the public that we’re doomed by climate change and Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions. These doomsters assume that only massive government action can prevent horrific outcomes. Their confidence comes from misrepresenting or exaggerating the underlying science (e.g., regarding the worst-case scenario in the IPCC’s AR5).

They also make a second error: ignoring other solutions. Most obviously, the development of new energy sources (or large improvements to existing sources, such as solar). That is an odd oversight, since rapid tech innovation has been the story of the past 3 centuries. It is especially odd since there are indications today that a new solution might come soon.

Fusion, at last

Robert L. Hirsch ran the US fusion program in the 1970s, walking away from it after he realized that success was not 20 years away (as commonly said), but beyond the foreseeable future. Scientists relying on government grants have continued to promise results soon, without delivering on them. So climate change gurus “know” that fusion will not save us. They say that just as smart and experienced people conclude the opposite. See the following, showing increasing investments in fusion from private sources.

One mega-corp is investing in fusion: Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works began building a compact fusion system in 2010. See their website and the Wikipedia entry. From their October 2014 press release

“{Lockheed} is working on a new compact fusion reactor (CFR) that can be developed and deployed in as little as ten years. …The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year. After completing several of these design-build-test cycles, the team anticipates being able to produce a prototype in five years.”

Most of these companies issue exciting press releases and videos about breakthroughs and timetables. Most are falling behind on their initial promises. The sums spent are small, as such things go. But the increasing interest of private investors – especially professional venture capitalists – marks the start of a new phase in the development of fusion power. Just like the inventors of modern urban transit systems a century ago, they pursue private profits and want quick results. But in the few decades they might – might – solve several major problems threatening the planet.

Mr. Fusion

Looking to our future

HORATIO: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
HAMLET: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy {i.e., science}.

Pundits and scientists gives us absurdly confident forecasts about the distant future, things decades or generations away. Often about certain doom, usually based on mathematical models looking at only a tiny sliver of the countless factors affecting our world. Humility about our ability to see the future too seldom appears in these. The darkest predictions are those that deliberately ignore possible non-political solutions. The shrillest calls for political action are those that see only one threat and ignore the many other dangers that threaten us.

Scary press releases make easily written clickbait stories for journalists. A steady diet of them makes well-entertained but ignorant and passive citizens, overwhelmed by the daily tsunami of doomster stories and awareness that all have proven false in the past. We can do better. See The first step to protecting the world from its many dangers.

For More Information

Another often-told story about natural resources is about the replacement of whale oil by petroleum. The reality was much more complex, with no obvious lessons for us. See an analysis by Bill Kovarik, Professor of Communication at Radford University; also see the discussion in the comments.
For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, all posts about shockwaves, and especially these about some of the many large threats to our world…

  1. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Important: The oceans are dying. See their condition on World Oceans Day!
  4. How good are our global senses, watching our changing world? — About solar storms.
  5. California’s past megafloods – and the coming ARkStorm.
  6. It’s the Anthropocene! But natural threats will still kill millions unless we act soon.
  7. Three things to know about asteroids, certain death from the sky (eventually).
  8. Geologists warn us about dangerous volcanoes. Will we spend pennies for warnings?
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62 thoughts on “Hopeful news for us from the Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

  1. I’m not sure that the supply of horse manure has not increased. Just look at all the climate predictions and, as shown here, fusion.

    • Bob,

      Re: fusion as “horse manure”

      Just a guess, but these venture capitalists probably have a better track record at evaluating new tech than you.

      Like baseball players, they don’t need to hit the ball every time. They just need to have a profitable record, on average.

      • VCs are experts at evaluating the potential for themselves to profit from a technology. That is not the same as predicting it will work, except in the cynical sense that Solyndra “worked” as a scheme for getting the government to cough up plenty of taxpayer funds before it croaked.

        I expect similar “successes” from both Tesla and SpaceX.

        • Tesla is indeed a business failure and an example of crony capitalism. SpaceX, though, is a viable model and is cost effective for a task at hand….

      • Larry

        If there is a tidal wave of venture capital investment (as opposed to same-ole same-ole tax-payer funds), please disclose it.

        BTW, since you denigrate Bob with a cheap ad hominem, how ’bout a substantial public donation of your own money to “fund” fusion research?

        Time to put your money where your mouth is, big boy. We’ll check back in, oh.let’s say thirty years.

  2. I use the illustration of the horse manure crisis when talking about government solving problems. It is a great example of innovation coming from the private sector.

  3. Fusion is something that should work, but getting over irrational fear of fission would be easier and faster, at least technically. Undoing decades of agitprop against atomic power would be difficult, and the will to do so seems missing.
    The hardcore greens would oppose fusion, too, and for the same reasons they oppose fission. Remember, cheap and abundant power is like giving a machine gun to an idiot child.

      • Rossi missed his true calling, that of Daytime Soap Opera writer.
        Consider your typical soap opera. A story which never ends, has innumerable sup-plots, and constant twists and turns. Main plot lines fade out, and two or three sub-plots come to the fore to take over. New sub-plots are introduced.
        And *nothing* ever gets resolved.

        This, of course, is the story of the E-Cat.

      • The problem with Rossi and LENR in general is that the kind of test that would convince us has not been done. I have been a reader of e-catworld for years, and am honestly rooting for Rossi, the team at MFMP, Parkinov, and others. BUT, it’s easy to setup a no BS this is real test. No one has done it yet. The answer always given is soon, after we get the tech ready, sure, why not, but until I see the real test, I will be only hoping for them.

        The folks talking about liquid cycle, particularly thorium reactors, the ones with the passive meltdown protection are the ones I am most hopeful for

        • Mike

          personally, and with no scientific knowledge to back it up, I wonder if Lockheed Martin won’t spring a little surprise on us all.

          No one believed an enormous bomber could achieve the radar profile of a pigeon, but they managed it. And I know it’s entirely different, but as far as I can gather, they have been very quiet since around 2014. Unlike many other fusion projects, they don’t seem to need external funding and they have the ear of the US government. They don’t need to hype their progress to raise money so the boffins can get on with the job.

          Their concept seems logical as well. No point in building a single full scale experiment when it will fail time and time again and cost a fortune to re jig every time, and take goodness knows how long each time.

          By comparison, skunk works technology seems almost disposable. If it fails, scrap it and build the next iteration from what they learned from the failure.

          And wouldn’t it be nice to go out and buy a Mr. Fusion for the house the same way we do a central heating furnace. Cool! 🙂

          Just an ignorant bystanders tuppence worth.

          • “By comparison, skunk works technology seems almost disposable. If it fails, scrap it and build the next iteration from what they learned from the failure.” Edison and the light bulb come to mind.

      • Goldrider

        We need to stop letting minority groups in general set policy. Easy-peasy!

        Democracy is being undermined by them.

        • On the other hand, a democracy that completely ignores the will of the minority is indistinguishable from a dictatorship.

  4. Nuclear has been regulated to death. Low waste Thorium reactions have been around since the 1960s, but never had a chance. Anybody want to take a guess that fusion, if it becomes viable, will suffer the same fate.
    Remember, the enviros lauded natural gas as cleaner and a vital “bridge to the future” fuel. Right up to the moment fracing made possible the huge expansion of the use NG possible. Then the enviros pulled an abrupt u-turn and attacked viciously. Expect fusion to get the same treatment.

    In a larger sense, there are common threads here.
    Autos, electricity, and subways were not regulated by bureaucratic overlords right from the start.
    Today one universal complaint from venture capital investors is that regulatory compliance costs kill potential investments right at the concept stage.

  5. The article triggered a memory of a phrase that often appeared in my 3rd & 4th year EE textbooks: “It is intuitively obvious to the casual observer that (insert assertion).”

    • >>
      “It is intuitively obvious . . . .”
      <<

      We asked a prof to show us how intuitively obvious a proof was. After filling the black board up multiples times and running out of class time, he never did come up with the answer.

      Jim

  6. If they had better over reach government tactics like “never let a good crisis go to waste” and had instituted a manure tax, it would still be with us today as a vital base contributor to budgets. Modern politicians would decry its elimination with its benefits for “the children.”

  7. I think the metaphorical horse manure from the climate “scientists” is only surpassed by the number of climate faux Nobel Laureates

  8. Larry Kummer,

    I wish you would get off your one tracked one trick pony. I can’t stand your dumb musings. Who is this royal “us” you constantly spout off about. I’m not “yours” to even think about. You have no claim on me!

    Take your group think, and shove it up your presumptions! Stop talking about fear and risk and all the ridiculous world class “problems” you think you’ve comprehended and take a good long look at how much of real problem you might actually be for rest of the world!

    It just may be, that the future will be pleasant and welcome, lacking the negative prefixes that you so clearly favour.

    You completely fail to comprehend that fear mongering even disguised by your peculiar form of fence-sitting, still stinks, despite your sweet smelling sophistry.

    Give it a rest. If you actually had a real solution to a single problem – judging by your mentality – that would be a world I wouldn’t want live in.

    I’m sick of your smarmy propaganda, it’s so thinly vailed, I’m surprised more people aren’t incensed by the shear audacity of your puerile effrontery.

    Get over yourself!

    That’s me being polite. I’m not allowed to say what I really think here!

    SWB

    [this was left in moderation for awhile along with a note on repeated attempts, so that Mr. Bennett sees why this sort of rant isn’t appropiate for WUWT. – Anthony]

    • Scott,

      Feel free to say what’s on your mind, however, Larry offers an alternative. Might be right, might be a wrong, might be a complete load of horse manure.
      Instead of yelling at him, tell us what’s wrong with the idea or propose an alternative. Otherwise, chill out, being a keyboard warrior is not a badge of honour that will earn you respect on this website.

    • Mr. Bennett does not see why this comment is considered a rant. Nor does he see why it is inappropriate!

      What Mr. Bennett doesn’t understand is why Mr. Watts keeps promoting this particular author.

      Mr. Bennett – who does not hide behind anonymity* – finds Larry Kummer to be disingenuous at the least and dishonest in the extreme, that is why he cares deeply enough to attack him aggressively, in a public forum that he cares about dearly.

      He genuinely wonders if WUWT is under duress, to allow this patent scumbag** to have a platform!

      SWB

      *My life and details are publicly available.
      ** Absolutely, my own opinion, totally unqualified of course 😉

      • If Mr. Bennett keeps talking about himself in the third person he should seek professional counseling lest his narcissism get the better of him. Or himself. Or whatever.

  9. I had read the horsemanure problem originated with Malthus almost a century earlier, which may be wrong, too but I think it is the typical lefty “fact checker” at work here, pronouncing it fake after checking only the 1894 reference. Certainly the horse problem in terms of getting places in cities expanding in radius was mentioned and getting hay to them from ever farther peripheries. I dont believe anyone retroactively calculated the manure problem after it was no longer a problem. I think a very good researcher could find the actual reference.

    Also, I believe you are wrong to suggest that a tech solution may not be found for future problems created by mankind and you didnt mention that most doom scenarios are almost certainly not worth considering. Most are made by biologists, a profession ill-suited to make such predictions. It is a descriptive science of what is. It is a linear science.

    Biology has been grossly corrupted politically and there is a fundamental, built-in misanthropism in its teaching and practice. It is a science that has a helpless petri-dish, zero sum view of life with limited fixed resources that is totally wrong. The science is devoid of understanding of the human ingenuity dimension and linear is king.

    It is axiomatic that doom scenarios from biologists can be safely dismissed as examples of Bertrand Russell’s orbiting small teapot, which also fits the climate crisis to a tee!

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot

    • Not so fast – there is a Tesla orbiting between Earth and Mars, approximately – ask Elon Musk. Not known if the occupant has a Starbucks iced green tea.

  10. I still don’t know what the real issue is, other than the Greenbeans’ idiotic and seemingly intentional misunderstanding of how things really work.

    It seems to me that this is a cycle that started about 10 years ago, maybe earlier, and turned into a bounce-back from the Doomsday possibility of Global Ice Age All Over Again. Either there is a lack of understanding of natural cycles, or the intention is to refuse to acknowledge them, or maybe both. Almost seems like it’s both.

    I’d respond that if the CAGWers, Warmians, Greenbeans and all those other Doomsday fans want to live in a world of the Total Primitive Existence, not only would none of them survive it, but they should logically be the first to go to it. They are possibly the silliest, most disconnected group on the planet.

  11. It is still my opinion that fusion is not going to amount to much, the energy density just isn’t there. Per pound of matter, the hydrogen fusion in the sun produces about as much heat as the average compost pile, it’s just a very LARGE compost pile and it takes a long time for the energy to reach the surface. In order to produce excess energy at industrial utility scale we will need to create and maintain temperatures and pressures much greater than that in the area of the sun where fusion is currently occurring. Technically possible but we have other ways of generating energy that are much easier.

    We would probably be better off upgrading the current natural gas infrastructure to be hydrogen tight, using excess wind / solar power to generate hydrogen from sea water, inject that into the system, and use the hydrogen enriched natural gas for home fuel cell operation. This has the dual purpose of both excess energy storage and indirect transport of desalinated water from the ocean to the fuel cells using the natural gas infrastructure for the hydrogen and the atmosphere for the oxygen. Suddenly Palm Springs homes are generating power and water which could be used for various things.

    • One problem with hydrogen’s ability to replace natural gas, hydrogen embrittlement of existing pipelines. Solve that problem and we might have a chance.

      • Austenitic stainless steel is fairly immune to embrittlement. Just one catch, it is five to ten times as expensive as ordinary steel.

    • Problems:
      1: What excess wind/solar energy? You would need at least triple your demand to make it through a still night followed by a still cloudy day.
      2: The electrolysis process is extremely energy inefficient. You would need use a lot of energy to make just the H2 you need to make it through the night. There is a reason that it is not used anywhere on Earth. giant batteries, expensive as they are, ctual
      3: The volume of water generated would be miniscule, and as it’s completely demineralized, it will be quite acidic, making it unsuited for anything except cleaning hard water stains (Think of a more extreme version of dehumidifier water)
      4: Hydrogen Embrittlement. Most natural gas piping is unsuited for carrying hydrogen because H2 reacts poorly to steel.

    • A single B61 with dial-a-yield to 370,000 tons TNT is a working thermonuclear fusion machine. That is a full megatanker of TNT equivalent on wing. Energy density?
      Mm. Curie’s discovery of tiny amounts of radioactivity let very quicly to rough calculations – the Manhattan project started with nothing but these, and a crash budget. The fusion budget was even more. A lot was learned – still classified. DPRK with crumbs managed to bring the world to the peace table. DPRK mastered thermonuclear fusion. RoK has a fusion project. They need a Sword-to-Ploughshare approach, not simply “denuclearizing” .
      While the decaying west goes back to manure compost, fusion will likely take off eastward.

      • Unclear at this point whether Nork nukes are boosted fission or genuine fusion. I’m guessing the former.

        Big difference between a bomb and a contained, sustained reaction.

      • PS: Norks didn’t do it with crumbs. They were aided and abetted by China and Russia, plus buying cheap components from Ukraine. And with important support from Pakistan and its enemy Iran.

  12. This articl reminded me of lines from a poem.

    “The invention all admired, and each, how he
    To be the inventor missed; so easy it seemed
    Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
    Impossible”

    Paradise Lost by John Milton

  13. It’s always a mistake to decide what technology will “solve” a future crisis. Back in 1880 I’m sure that the solution would have been steam powered vehicles and any big push for that could have delayed gasoline power by decades.

  14. This stuff about alternative energy is the primary focus of alarmists–and one of its most destructive tendencies. We are carbon-based life forms. Fossil fuels and ONLY FOSSIL FUELS INCREASE THE CARRYING CAPACITY OF EARTH FOR LIFE.

    Skeptics often emphasize economics. And it is clear that alarmism has cost the world at least a trillion dollars of value, and hurt the poor the most.

    But it is worth that sacrifice “to save the planet” (meaning the biosphere).

    The biosphere really does matter the most.

    And it is precisely there that we have our MOST powerful argument if I can only manage to wake y’all up. FOSSIL FUELS WILL SAVE THE PLANET. No other fuels have remotely the LIFE value that fossils do. This includes human health.

    • And what happens when the fossil fuels run out? Irrespective of any climate change in about 200 years or so the world will be running on either solar energy or fusion. We know how to make solar power work but fusion is still a long term pipe dream.

      • Before that happens, we will be using nuclear fission safely. It is a technology that works, now.

        • And the supplies of fuel for fission are also quite limited. There is not that much Uranium around and similarly Thorium. Remember that you need to supply 100 PetaWattHours or more if everyone gets the same living standards as a typical European. At that level of energy usage fuel reserves get depleted very quickly.

          Of course there may well be substantial reserves of fissile fuel waiting to be discovered since not much exploration has gone on but it is still finite and will get depleted.

          • Current world energy production is approximately 157 Pwatt-hr. Let’s not go backwards.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

            US per capita consumption of energy is approx 7,000 kg of oil equivalent per year, with an energy value of 11,000 kcal/kg. The conversion of kcal to kw-hr is 0.001166222. For all 7.6 billion people on earth to have the same energy wealth as the average US citizen would be:

            7×10^3 x 1.1×10^7 x 7.6×10^9 x 1.17×10^-3 = 68.5×10^16 watt-hr or

            685 Pwatt-hr, or just a little over 4 times current world production. Fiddly bits.

      • The universe is exploding with energy, and the earth is a giant ball of resources. Looking at our past technological advancements, I predict a future with more energy than we need. If we use that energy/tech for good or evil is my big question.

  15. What type of horse could make its way through eight feet of manure? If none then the nine feet was unlikely to have ever been reached.

  16. All your stuff ends up sounding so bland. I still haven’t seen any proof injecting CO2 back into the atmosphere has had any negative effects, nor have I seen any evidence that it will.

    Maybe one day there will be. But I’m not holding my breath.

  17. “Another often-told story about natural resources is about the replacement of whale oil by petroleum. The reality was much more complex, with no obvious lessons for us. See an analysis by Bill Kovarik, Professor of Communication at Radford University; also see the discussion in the comments.”

    Sorry Bill Kovarik’s arguments about the “Whale Oil Myth” are nonsense. He takes a small amount of truth and builds a mountain of horse manure. I demolished this idea in April here:
    https://andymaypetrophysicist.com/2018/04/24/the-pbs-newshour-whale-oil-myth/

    Many alternatives to whale oil were tried, as he says in his article. This was because whale oil became too expensive, due to over fishing. But none of the attempted replacements worked very well. This was especially true of alcohol (ethanol) and turpentine based “camphene” which was extremely dangerous to use. High-quality kerosene from the Gesner process and crude oil was the best and it is still used today in lanterns for camping and power failures. Kerosene was not only a tenth of the price of whale oil by 1890, it was a superior and safer fuel with a longer shelf life.

    Kovarik is very dishonest in his cherry picking of numbers and dates.

  18. Corrected information: Proton Scientific, Inc. was founded in 2012, based in Oak Ridge, TN. Funding is $5 million, VC. /dmitri.novikov@protonscientific.com

  19. 2 pints? I though the writers and readers here were immune to innumeracy: ” 37 pounds of feces and 2.4 GALLONS of urine daily”. That is GALLONS, not pints.

    In the late 1970’s Joseph Calafano (Carter’s HEW secretary) had a sample of Coors beer sent to a lab for analysis. They sent a note back to him: “We are sorry Sec. Calafano – Your horse has diabetes.”

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