"The Independent" newspaper reports that least 70 towns in France have adopted horse-drawn carriages as a substitute for vehicles powered by petroleum-derived fuel. The move is part of an effort to reduce CO2 emissions. Now, horses do emit CO2, but only as derived from renewable carbon-fuels, oats and hay. The carriage is called the "hippoville", and is fitted with disc-brakes, signal-lamps and removable seats. As far as cost is concerned, a starting price (so to speak) is around £8,000 (11,000 Euro), which is about the price of 160 barrels of crude oil. I note this morning, incidentally, that the price of North Sea, Brent crude has fallen by $3 dollars to $93 per barrel, as a result of the promise by OPEC to increase its production by 500,000 barrels a day. One wonders, with record amounts of water being pumped out of the giant Ghawar field (the world's biggest producer of crude oil) how feasible this is, amid speculation that its production has already peaked.
As has been pointed-out, the hippoville is not a pollution-free vehicle, since a 1,000 pound horse produces about 50 pounds of dung every day along with six to ten gallons of urine, and which if soaked-up by bedding (straw) would provide another 50 pounds daily. Extrapolating, over a year, such a horse will produce about ten tonnes of dung and an equivalent amount of urine/straw. Now when I was a child, it was a common sight to see people going behind a horse, picking-up its dung to put on their gardens. Rhubarb was particularly favoured for this treatment, as became the subject of a number of British lavatorial jokes; such is our sense of humour. So, the horse exhaust-products could be put to good use in agriculture.
It is worth recalling that before the motor car became popular, there was speculation that the projected future number of horses would leave city-folk waste-deep in dung and it was noted the considerable effort of New York City in disposing of some 12,000 horse carcasses per year. I presume they were rendered-down to make glue and for other purposes. I walked past an expensive restaurant in Thun in Switzerland, some time ago, and noted with surprise that "pferderfleisch"was on the menu, "horse meat", and so this might prove another advantage to the horse, at least in some countries, though I doubt it over here, in this nation of animal-lovers.
Quite seriously, I fully expect to witness a come-back for the horse, amid the society of local farms and small communities that I envisage we will return too, from whence we came before the age of cheap-oil. As Thomas Hardy described in his novels, e.g. The Mayor of Casterbridge (his alias for Dorchester, in the south-west of England), such an agrarian lifestyle was extremely hard, especially if you were poor. He describes the journeyman farm labourers who walked 20 miles a day in search of work, and worked for a few pennies a day until that work was done, and then on to whatever next they could find. There was no welfare state then, and if a labourer was ill, or injured in this terribly dangerous profession, he simply got no money.
I do not envisage this extreme, but an emphasis on home-production - local farms and breeding horses and other animals is more realistic than the "hydrogen economy" for instance, or other technical fixes that will not be introduced in time, or if at all, to save us from the imminent energy-crunch, particularly in terms of transportation. If this nation and others must become as near self-sufficient as possible to survive, the horse will become an essential ingredient of the "energy mix" we often hear about.
(1) "The horse: Is this the secret weapon to beat global warming?" By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor for The Independent. http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/