October 18, 2010

Putting Seabiscuit to Work

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The automobile, Ford’s triumph of American innovation and industry, has trapped us in an absurd system of oil dependency that politicians pledge to fix. Even if everyone from Portland to Portland bought a hybrid, thousands of gallons of oil would still be used to manufacture all those Prius’ (Priui?), pave the roads and keep the engines lubricated. Assuming the electricity comes from renewable sources, you’d still need oil to produce wind turbines, transport solar panels and create chemical fertilizers for high-yield biomass crops.

Hybrid cars are a start, but the real solution to this fossil-fuel problem is not an oil-based one. It’s time we go “beyond petroleum” to embrace an alternative form of transportation, and it is up to us as consumers to make this change.

So when you graduate and leave Ithaca, don’t buy a Ford Mustang, buy a mustang.

We put a man on the moon — it’s about time we put him back on a horse. The idea may seem preposterous, but climb off your high horse for a minute and permit me to make it posterous, and maybe later postposterous.

Most will agree that gas-powered cars pollute the environment. However, horses run on grass. Any homeowner can tell you that grass is an abundant renewable resource in America, thanks to our investments in lawn care. The large yards of the suburbs make them ideal places to fuel up horses; no need for pesky conversations about increased density, mixed-use development or smaller lot sizes. While you sip your coffee, your bronco fuels up in the front lawn.

Once your Italian stallion has had its fill, the open road will beckon like never before. Presently, short car trips lack the thrill of a BMW ad; traffic crimps your style and mocks the engineers that designed cars to go fast and handle well. As kids we’re brought up to idolize horses even before we like cars — little girls want ponies and little boys want to be cowboys. Riding horses embodies our core American values of individualism and freedom, which is why we name our cars after them. You won’t find a horse called “3 Series” racing in the Kentucky Derby. (As an aside, I think I saw that movie Secretariat seven years ago when it was called Seabiscuit).

As you saddle up and commute to work, the road will feel different. Horses weigh less than cars, so instead of impervious asphalt paving, we’ll use gravel surfaces, which are cheaper to maintain and decrease storm water runoff. Your commute won’t be that long anyway. According to an ABC News poll from 2005, the average commuting distance is only 16 miles, despite how long it seems when sitting in traffic. Since a horse takes up less space than a car, and most cars only carry one person, we’ll be able to fit more people on the same roads we use now and therefore decrease traffic and congestion.

Once you arrive at your destination, finding a parking spot and getting grass will be easy. We’ll replace those giant parking lots in front of shopping malls and office complexes with fields where horses can roam free and fuel up on local, organic, renewable grass. Everyone hates parking lots, everyone loves parks. With horses, everyone wins.

If you think horse droppings will smell, you’re right. They will be rank with the stench of festering dollars waiting to be snatched up by entrepreneurial hands. We can create a network of individuals to collect horse droppings on the streets and bring them to small, local facilities where they’ll be processed into natural fertilizer to grow more grass, which will fuel more horses. Find me a car that’s ever produced gas from its own exhaust.

In addition to the fuel collectors, we’ll need thousands more jobs to meet new equine maintenance demands. Besides vets, we’ll need floaters to file horse teeth and farriers to make horse shoes. Cornell is already a leader in this field — our university farrier is the only American to ever be inducted with honors into the Worshipful Company of Farriers, founded in 1356 (no, seriously). Manufacturing will get a boost too, as all manner of horse tack will be made from leather, a material that we can get from our grass-fed cows after they’ve been ethically slaughtered. No need for rapacious coal mining or steel smelting, nor for obstreperous trade talks with China. These green-collar jobs will require unions, which will lead to lawsuits, which will create positions for activists and non-profit workers, which will attract media attention, which will lead to more lawsuits, which will create more jobs for lawyers. Even the Anthropology majors will find work.

Riding a horse to work everyday might seem dangerous, but each year cars injure more people in the U.S. than do horses. The uppity readers out there may pull out some hogwash about relative usage of horses vs. cars, but this is the same type of shady math that led us to the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Everything about this is easy and perfect. All you have to do to save our environment and economy is upgrade to a one horsepower, automatic transmission colt today.

If my genius plan doesn’t seem practical, then you shouldn’t put your faith in other silver-bullet schemes that promise to solve all our energy and economic needs without any individual hardship. There are 365 easy ways to go green, but we should be talking about the hard ones that involve changing more than just the products that we buy.

Ben Koffel is a first-year grad student in the College of Architecture, Art & Planning. He may be contacted at bkoffel@cornellsun.com. Come Again? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Ben K.