Hopeful news for us from the Horse Manure Crisis of 1894

 

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 1894The 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. FusionMr. 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?

via Watts Up With That?

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June 13, 2018 at 07:36AM

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