The Air Pollution Crisis is our Horse Manure Crisis

At the turn of the last century the great world metropolises were, figuratively, drowning in horse manure. In London alone, there were 11,000 hansom cabs on the streets and several thousand horse drawn buses, each needing 12 horses. Just to transport people around the city there were 50,000 horses and then all the trucks and vans of their day – carts – which needed pulling too.

Each horse produced 7-15kg of dung each day and over a litre of urine, leading to some very smelly and unhealthy streets. In 1894, The Times stated that “in 50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure”, we were at the beginning, it wrote, of the Great Horse Manure Crisis.

However, within a decade Henry Ford had developed automobile mass manufacture and, with the release of the Model T Ford in 1908, the world was transformed. Combined with electric trams and the underground railways, horse driven transport in cities largely disappeared within a decade, along with the manure crisis. Now all we can see of the horse-drawn era are water troughs in town centres generally used as flower beds.

Some 100 years on, there is a new pollution crisis arising as a waste produce from travel. As our understanding of the impact of transport-related emissions has improved, so has the drive to clean up our great cities’ filthy air. Air pollution is responsible for the equivalent of 50,000 deaths in the UK alone and half a million across Europe, with an estimated economic impact of $1.43 trillion a year.

A pessimist might think this just an insurmountable problem – the downsides of living in great cities with all the opportunities they provide. They are, of course, wrong. Vehicles are getting cleaner and air quality is improving rapidly. Transformational technologies are delivering zero emission drivetrains at an affordable cost without the range anxiety. Energy storage technologies are rapidly appearing, which can address problems around grid capacity for electric vehicles.

And there are technologies, such as Tantalum’s Air.Car, which will give consumers, business and government a granular understanding of their transport emissions, thereby giving the power to measure, manage and mitigate them. With emissions highly dependent on driving style, the technology is here to help reduce your environmental impact and your exposure.

Just like the Great Manure Crisis of 1894, the air pollution crises of the 2010s will be solved by new technology.