NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 14, 2007

Hardly a day goes by without a pronouncement on how the past was so much better than now -- particularly with regard to the environment -- and how much worse the future will be, says Diane S. Katz, director of science, environment and technology policy with the Mackinac Center.

But according to Otto L. Bettmann, author of "The Good Old Days -- They Were Terrible!" nothing could be further from the truth.  For instance:

  • Although now blamed for all matter of ills, the advent of the automobile dramatically improved the environment.
  • There were some 3 million horses in American cities at the dawn of the 20th century, with the healthier ones producing between 20 to 25 pounds of manure a day.
  • These dumplings were numerous on every street, attracting swarms of flies and radiating a powerful stench.

Further, according to Bettmann:

  • By the standards of the last century, air quality today is excellent -- notwithstanding the claims of environmental activists.
  • Smoke and acrid vapors smothered the industrial cities of the post-Civil War United States; a number of doctors spoke of the violence of the stenches; of oil refineries endlessly puffing black smoke "to produce sickness and depression;" of acid fumes "irritating lungs and throat;" of odors causing "an inclination to vomit."

Country life was no picnic, either.  Although suburbs are frequently maligned these days for having supplanted the family farm, "images of idyllic simplicity" are grossly inaccurate, says Bettmann.  "The farmer and his family toiled fourteen hours a day merely to sustain themselves.  In place of a neat rose garden, an expanse of muck and manure surrounded the farmhouse, exuding a pestilential stench that attracted swarms of flies, ticks and worms to amplify the miseries of man and beast.  The elemental task of survival precluded any concern for hygiene or sanitary installations.

Source: Diane S. Katz, "The Not So Good Life," Mackinac Center for Public Policy, September 4, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues