Today’s post is by regular contributor, Richard Jurin who, before his retirement, led the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Northern Colorado, where he launched a degree in Sustainability Studies.  His academic interests are environmental worldviews and understanding barriers to sustainability. As ever, with our blogs, the views expressed are not necessarily shared by NAEE.

Richard writes:

During the 1800s, many large cities invested in the construction of large sewer systems, first to move storm water then to safely move raw sewage away from homes to treatment areas.  This was done to solve problems of flooding and then to create more hygienic environments to prevent what were common diseases like typhoid and cholera.  The new discipline of urban planning was introduced to resolve many problems from rapidly growing towns and cities.  In this, the bigger social benefit of many urban plans was weighed against the physical costs. 

As cities grew, the amount of travel and commercial freight also grew.  Since this was all facilitated by draught animals, the poop deposited in the streets daily from these animals became a new source of problems.  For instance, New York City was a crowded mess with horse manure, urine, and rotting horse carcasses littering the streets creating disease conditions (one estimate is that three billion flies hatched in horse manure per day in US cities in the year 1900). New York alone had over 100,000 horses producing over 2.5 million pounds of manure every day.  In 1894, the London Times Newspaper despaired that if horse poop problem was not resolved, then by 1950, London streets would be nine feet deep in manure.    

During the latter part of the nineteenth century the problem of ‘horse poop’ had reached crisis level.  In 1898, New York held a world conference on urban planning with a major topic being the horse poop crisis.  The problem remained unresolved, but an unexpected technological solution was coming – the automobile.  In 1886, the first cars were battery driven but highly inefficient at that time.  By 1900, the gasoline driven internal combustion engine started appearing in low numbers, but growing exponentially so by 1912 cars started to outnumber horse drawn vehicles.  Most people saw this as a resolution to the horse poop crisis and unquestioningly supported a bold rush to build society around this amazing technology.  

Horse poop disappeared and few noticed any side effects from automotive vehicles with their almost invisible exhaust fumes that dissipated into the air.  Had a Faustian bargain been created?  Had cars dropped a pound of problematic ‘solid material’ from their exhaust pipes onto the roads for every 8 miles driven, perhaps this new combustion technology might have been questioned a little more before letting it dominate our lives in the way that it did.  Once seen as an environmental saviour to the poop problem that had brought modern cites to the brink of despair, automotive traffic itself is now seen as a Faustian Bargain.

If making money was a talent that solved ecological and social problems then we would have never reached the global problems we see today.  Yet, if global groups like the World Economic Forum and corporate backed technocrats and bureaucrats at the United Nations have a say, we may soon embark on the most draconian global policies ever seen (since the Covid lockdowns) to curb carbon dioxide emissions in order to purportedly save the planet from the looming climate catastrophe.  Yet, while climate is changing, most climate scientists do not think it is an extinction level event, despite platitudes demonizing carbon dioxide as the extinction chemical.  Unlike the viscerally notable piles of horse poop lying around, chemical pollution is a less visible, and a consequence of science and technology driven by an economic worldview not served by wisdom.

A guru of science and technology from 1985 was Carl Sagan who said:

“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”  

Communications, and all other aspects of society, agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, education, entertainment, protecting the environment, the global economy, and key democratic institutions are all encompassed by this mixture.  

The complexities of global climate changes have been reduced to a simplistic understanding with carbon dioxide as the culprit to be reined in.  As a colleague recently wrote to me, the UK has gone with “a Gadarene rush to Net Zero enshrined in legislation and regulation.”  The rest of the world is being encouraged to follow.  But are these the ‘right decisions’ right now?  Fear and urgency is being used to drive ‘green deal’ polices, but are they based on scientific and physical realities.  We are in danger of creating a modern Faustian bargain to find solutions to our pollution problems using simplistic thinking without the benefit of wisdom and understanding about where we want to end up.  

Are we in danger of creating an even worse long-term series of problems in our Gadarene rush to solve what seems a major problem now?  Where are the real discussions that can more pragmatically lead our political systems?  Where are the pragmatic and wise voices of the world in the proposed solutions?  Before we hand over humanity’s future, lock, stock, and barrel to elites’ agendas that may themselves be Faustian bargains, we need to stop, sit down and discuss at the grass roots, and not be rushed into accepting fear-based decisions by callous elites we will come to rue.


Richard can be contacted at:

Editor’s note. Although this post does not mention education, per se, it clearly explores issues which might well be the focus of student consideration, certainly in 16 – 19 schools and collages. But is it?

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