Fossil Fuel Use and Health Issues 1 – Personal Responsible Behaviors

The last blog post ended with a short paragraph about Personal Responsible Behaviors.  Most people do not like to hear that kind of thing because it places the burden of solution on them and not on some external entity that they can blame.  The point made here is that it is NOT about blame but about creating solutions.  Once you realize that you personally contribute to a problem or issue you can make a personal choice about your future actions, and in turn help influence others in creating solutions.    

From the academic literature the following is noted: Responsible behavior is the basic layer of sustainability. The foundation of responsible behavior is integrity, which entails honesty, correctness, transparency and confidentiality, combined with a sound risk awareness. Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large.  Social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy, and the ecosystems in which we live that promote well-being for everyone. 

In our modern world, fossil fuels (FFs) are a simple fact of life – the system as it is currently set up was founded on FFs and still is reliant on our using fossil fuels.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are many alternates to using fossil fuels, but so many of us, and especially those in charge cannot seem to break out of that way of thinking.  

In the 1850s, the western world was on a binge of industrial growth using coal power as the source of power and energy for nearly all the manufacturing and transportation that was occurring.  Factories and steam trains were on a roll ramping up the industrial revolution.  Unfortunately, a major side effect of burning all this coal was choking and awful primary air pollution with black smog’s being an almost common event from the early 1800’s until the 1970s.  In 1899, there was little incentive to stop burning coal and except for ending the industrial revolution, there was really no technological way to abate the issue.   Another major issue of the day was local transportation.  Steam trains were great for moving freight across distances and electrical trams were moving people through the cities on mainline public transport.  The problem was that to get to anywhere off the mainlines you need reliable transport that could move things around.  There were some early electrical trams for people, but local freight and Hansom cabs (horse drawn taxi cabs) still needed horses to pull the many people and thousands of wagons that moved goods and freight around the cities every day.  Each horse can produce about 2 pints of urine and about 15-35 pounds of poop a day on its journey through the streets.

If you have walked around recreational horse riders on a trail, you will notice copious amounts of horse poop on the trail.  And this is from only a few horses in one day.  Now expand that to millions of horses on every street and thoroughfare every day you can only imagine the piles of horse poop and the smell.  It had gotten so bad that policy makers called in scientists to help resolve the problem. Horse diapers (Nappies) were tried but the expense of only moderate effectiveness for so many horses was not feasible.   In the 1890’s, London and New York City both held horse poop congresses to discuss how they would avoid drowning in horsed poop.  It was estimated that at 1894 growth rates, the cities would be 9-feet deep in horse poop by the year 1950!   The solution it turned out had little to do with scientists diligently trying to solve a problem and more to do with businesses like the new automotive industry powered by distillates of oil (gasoline).  (The main use for oil until this point was lubricating oils and kerosene for lamps – most of the other fractionation products were waste.) Both John D. Rockefeller (Standard Oil) and Henry Ford (Ford motors USA) and Karl Benz (Benz-Cie motors Europe) were happy to lead the way.  While the automotive transport helped resolve the horse poop problem it also added to the air pollution with more secondary pollution.  The reason this was more acceptable was that horse poop was a known health problem, and secondary fossil fuel pollution was almost invisible by comparison. 

At the time, there was no shortage of politicians and business men screaming about how the automobile was going to destroy civilization as we knew it with rampant unemployment.  Needless to say, the horse poop problem was resolved through a technological innovation.  It would be another 70 years before the problems of fossil fuel pollution (coal especially and some oil) was partially resolved through technology that could ‘clean’ up emissions (e.g. coal stack scrubbers, catalytic converters, and unleaded fuels).   While air quality has been improved from what it was in 1900, the problem of primary and now, especially, secondary pollution needs the removal of fossil fuels from the whole system.  The good news is that the many primary Renewable energy sources and their secondary derivatives (e.g. Hydrogen and compressed air) can eliminate fossil fuel pollution as a major problem.  Of course, we still have politicians and business men screaming how renewable energy and fuels are going to destroy civilization as we know it – sound familiar? 

We need to look to the future and new technologies can help us do that and at the same time solve many o fhte pollution problems associated with fossil fuel use.  In all the previous blog posts on this site we overviewed the renewable options.  The great advantage of these options is that they are a solution to many of the health problems that we now face because of fossil fuel use.  As more and more people support the use of alternate energy sources, the acceptance of removing fossil fuel use will grow as well.  Fossil fuels got our modern technological world started, but we can ill-afford to ignore the health and societal costs any longer.  Up next is the role of economics in our lives and why we must move to renewable energy sources now.  

Leave a Reply