One mile driven in a car = one pound of horse ploppies

A geologist translates how much carbon dioxide is emitted by today’s cars into an older measure:

“At one point we had a transportation system that had horses,” said Penn State University geologist Richard Alley. “And the horses made horse ploppies. If our CO2 came out of the car as horse ploppies, it would sort of be a pound per mile. And if you put that on the roads of America, in a year it would average an inch deep. And as I like to say, we would have no more joggers in America. We’ll all be cross-country skiers.”

I have read several accounts by urban historians who have described just how much horse manure was in the streets of major cities in earlier centuries. The smell. The sight. The need for people to clean it up. In comparison to roads in past eras, our streets are clean: free of garbage and waste, typically only for fast-moving vehicles.

But, having a car makes that carbon dioxide emission less visible. The average driver doesn’t really see anything and the waste produced by individual vehicles are dwarfed by large facilities like factories or power plants. Of course, add up all the cars and vehicles in the United States and it is a sizable output. See some of the pictures of Los Angeles on days of major smog.

Thus, the analogy might be useful to remember. Although we wouldn’t stand for horse ploppies on our streets today, our vehicles emit carbon dioxide whether we regularly see it.

Figures: more deaths per capita in horse accidents in NYC in 1900 than in auto accidents today

I ran across an article titled “From Horse Power to Horsepower” that contains these interesting figures:

Horses killed in other, more direct ways as well. As difficult as it may be to believe given their low speeds, horse-drawn vehicles were far deadlier than their modern counterparts. In New York in 1900, 200 persons were killed by horses and horse-drawn vehicles. This contrasts with 344 auto-related fatalities in New York in 2003; given the modern city’s greater population, this means the fatality rate per capita in the horse era was roughly 75 percent higher than today. Data from Chicago show that in 1916 there were 16.9 horse-related fatalities for each 10,000 horse-drawn vehicles; this is nearly seven times the city’s fatality rate per auto in 1997.

Of course, as the article notes, there were other issues with having thousands of horses on the street each day.

I’ve written before about the risks of driving today, particularly compared to other behaviors which many might think are more dangerous but are not. Yet, these figures are a reminder that we are safer today on the city streets, at least while driving something in the streets, than in the past. It may not seem to be true but I suspect this has more to do with how much we hear about accidents (and crime) more than the actual reality of how dangerous it is.