The “automobile” moves itself, but it also moves us. Our cars carry us along the road of human progress not just by making us freer but by making us cleaner, healthier, and better fed.
Does such a claim strike you as strange?
In our own time, cars are seen as causing pollution, as well as making us lazy and fat. Consider how many of us drive our cars to the gym, where we exercise by walking or running, two activities often replaced by driving. But if you think about what the car replaced, it’s easy to see how the car is another example of what Don Boudreaux calls being “cleaned by capitalism.”
How has the car, which is so vilified as a producer of pollution today, made our lives cleaner?
Before the car, transportation required animals, mostly horses. Horses, of course, produce pollutants. What we in the modern, car-centric world easily lose track of is how dirty and smelly a world of horse-driven transportation is. Cities, in particular, were full of horse urine and manure, the stench of which could be overwhelming. Those by-products of transportation were no less polluting than what comes out of the exhaust pipe of a car or truck.
What we in the modern, car-centric world easily lose track of is how dirty and smelly a world of horse-driven transportation is.
To understand the scale of the problem of horse-related pollution, consider historian David Kyvig’s observation:
The idea of self-propelled carriages had long fascinated American inventors, not to mention the carriage-using wealthy classes. Given the problems of highly-polluting horse-drawn vehicles, especially in congested urban areas, a cleaner-running automobile had great appeal. In 1900 in New York City alone, 15,000 horses dropped dead on the streets, while those that lived deposited 2.5 million pounds of manure and…