In 1894, The Times predicted that “in fifty years every road in London will be buried in nine feet of manure.” – Photo credit: stephenliddell.co.uk

I recently found an interesting story in my son’s book. It looks like this:

In the late 19th century, many large cities relied heavily on horses for transportation. Horses excreted large amounts of excrement on the streets each day, exposing residents to foul odors and increasing the risk of infection and disease transmission.

The problem reached its breaking point in 1894. The Times was even claimed to have predicted that “in 50 years every road in London will have him buried in nine feet of manure.”

It seemed like there was no way out until Henry Ford created the world’s first assembly line. With the mass production of automobiles, the number of horse-drawn carriages declined rapidly. In ten years, the horse manure crisis that seemed insurmountable was solved.

The message of this little story is very powerful and memorable. Not surprisingly, a quick Google search showed how authors, media, and lobbyists are using this story as an analogy to encourage innovation.

But some were curious enough to dig deeper before quoting it. It was buried in fake news a long time ago,” and admitted that he was unable to find a reference to the above quote in the archives when requested by a reader.

As early as 2013, journalist Brandon Keim wrote for Nautilus: .

Medium.com writer Marco Treven also concluded that the story was mostly a hoax. Evidence was found in the case of New York, which was hit by a horse manure crisis similar to London at the time. According to two historians, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, the solution to the horse manure crisis was not the introduction of automobiles, but a radical overhaul of the city’s sanitation system. With strict military-like rules and salary adjustments, the horse manure crisis was effectively overcome by migrant workers and their shovels.

This (fake) story has practical implications for the climate crisis we face. “If those smart guys invent new technology, everything will be fine!” “The problem will solve itself” “There’s not much we can do, so why should we do that?” It is not uncommon to hear the words of

Such linear thinking can be dangerous to the fight against climate change and efforts towards sustainable development. You lose a holistic view of the problem and your ability to deal with it is compromised. It’s always easier to stay in your comfort zone than to challenge the status quo.

When we talk about the climate crisis, we often hear terms that are not easily understood by the average person, such as solar, wind, alternative energy sources, and even carbon capture and storage. The focus has mainly been on how new technologies can overcome the climate crisis while maintaining our current lifestyle.

Certainly, technological breakthroughs are very important. But isn’t it too risky to put all our hopes in technology, assuming the climate change crisis is just a horse manure crisis waiting to be solved? Current progress in energy deployment does not yet give us enough confidence that we can effectively limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Innovation goes beyond technology. It represents an idea or solution that deviates from the status quo. It doesn’t necessarily require cutting-edge technology, but it does require new applications and combinations of existing ones.

Numerous studies have clearly shown that innovations in system design and management can significantly reduce emissions. Examples include increased use of public transport, reduced food and material waste, increased recycling and reuse rates, and improved waste disposal and disposal. why?

There are two possible reasons. First, the crucial difference between these options and technological breakthroughs is their focus on cost reduction rather than wealth creation. Or simply put, they aren’t sexy enough to attract attention.

In the face of the climate crisis, the world still clings to the idea of ​​measuring progress in terms of economic growth. Generating new wealth from climate change technology remains a central theme, with policymakers frequently making provocative claims about job and income generation.

Second, these options require people to change their behavior. Everyone, including you and me, is involved because we may need to change our day-to-day practices. You might shy away from such an option because of the .

Can we eliminate the use of plastic bags entirely by adopting innovative packaging? Can we pay more attention to food consumption by innovatively optimizing our distribution system? Can we recycle or reuse more old items with innovative waste management? Can these be accelerated by behavioral changes? Will we need to make drastic changes? What interventions can governments innovatively implement to help them? We may need to keep asking these questions and looking for innovative ways to make things happen.

The urgency of the climate crisis leaves us with little time. Underestimating the risks can catch you off guard and lead to devastating consequences. You may need to step back and revisit the issue to see if you’re really missing an option.

Ignoring readily available solutions is putting the cart before the horse. Bite the bullet and do what you need to do – grab your shovel and clean up the mess.

Dr. Goh Chun Sheng is a researcher at Sunway University and Harvard University. He is interested in the intersection of bioeconomic development and environmental restoration, with a particular focus on Borneo, Malaysia and Indonesia.


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