By Andy May
It is difficult to compare 1840 to 2015, so much of what we have today didn’t exist then. But, they had to move people and goods from place to place as we do now. They had farms then as we do now. They used wagons pulled by horses, mules or oxen. We use cars and airplanes. They used muscle power to farm, we use tractors, combines, grain carts, and trucks powered by petroleum fuels. In 1840 crude oil and natural gas production and use were rare. Coal was used in manufacturing, but steam engines were still in their infancy. So the world in 1840 was fossil fuel free for the most part. Biofuels, that is burning wood and dung, were common. Wind power and hydro-power have been around for thousands of years. But, windmills suitable for pumping water on small American farms would not appear until 1854. Practical hydropower was not in common use until after 1849.
The cost of gasoline can be seen on the sign at any gas station, but what is its value? Using gasoline or diesel saves us time and manual labor. It also saves air, water and waste pollution. Let us not forget that the automobile was lauded as a great environmental improvement after the “Great Horse Manure Crisis” of 1894. Nothing like having horse manure up to your knees to help you appreciate gasoline!
How much manual labor is replaced when we use gasoline? In other words what is the value of gasoline?