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Cars improved the air . . . that's no bull | ajc.com

By Dwight R. Lee

For the Journal-Constitution

Published on: 02/27/07

The motto of all environmentalists should be "Thank goodness for the internal

combustion engine."

The abuse heaped on the internal combustion engine by environmentalists was

never justified. But a recent story on cow flatulence in the British newspaper,

The Independent, makes the environmental benefits from gasoline-powered engines

even more obvious. Based on a recent study by the Food and Agricultural

Organization, The Independent reports that "livestock are responsible for 18

percent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars,

planes and all other forms of transport put together."

Long before global warming became an environmental concern, however, the move

from the power provided by animals to that provided by gasoline had greatly

improved the environment. The emissions that came out of the tailpipes of horses

were much more lethal pollutants that those now coming out of the tailpipes of

cars. Horse emissions did more than make our town and cities stink; they spread

fly-borne diseases and polluted water supplies that killed people at a far

greater rate than the pollution from cars and trucks ever have.

Photochemical smog is clearly a health risk, but not nearly the health risk of

cholera, diphtheria and tetanus that have been largely eliminated with the help

of gasoline powered transportation.

Before the internal combustion engine it wasn't just cows, sheep and pigs

emitting pollution down on the farm. Tractors and other types of gas-powered

farm machinery eliminated the horses, mules and oxen that had provided most of

the power necessary to grow and harvest our food and fiber. This not only

reduced the problem that still exists from animal waste that environmentalists,

with justification, still complain about. The internal combustion engine also

eliminated the need to produce food to fuel millions upon millions of

agricultural beasts of burden. It has been estimated that in 1900 it took about

93 million acres of land to grow the food for the farm animals that were

replaced by current farm machinery. Most of that land has now gone back to

woodlands, greatly increasing the number of trees that are reducing the problem

of global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide.

The above consideration should have been enough to warrant an environmental

shrine to the internal combustion engine. And now we find that by eliminating

all those farm-yard animals, the internal combustion engine also eliminated vast

amounts of methane-producing flatulence, which is a much more powerful

greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide produce by burning gasoline.

Even though the internal combustion engine is less polluting than what it

replaced, it is obviously not pollution-free. Efforts should, and will be made

to make it even less polluting than it is, and some day internal combustion will

be replaced by an even less polluting technology. But history will look kindly

on the internal combustion engine as a major contributor to the steady progress

toward a healthier environment that has been made over the centuries.

> Dwight R. Lee is a professor of economics at the University of Georgia.


Drive your car.

Use your cell phone.


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