Thursday, August 6, 2009

Alternative energy c. 1909

From Division of Labor:

The Aug. 6, 1909 NYT reports (in seven lines) on a technological improvement (for the time) which would lead to dramatically reduced emissions and improved efficiency - all, it seems, based on private decision making:

The trial of an oil-burning locomotive on the Southern Pacific Division between Sparks and Carlin, Nev., has proved so satisfactory that the company has decided to retire all the coal-burning engines on that division. The change will be made at once.
Perhaps there were government subsidies aimed at creating an alternative to the black-smoke belching coal-burning locomotives. Perhaps the subsidies offered the rail-roads in the form of right-of-way and easements, among any number of other policies, indirectly encouraged the development of the new technology. Perhaps the pressure from local citizenries around the country to cut down on the smoke and fire-risk generated by coal-burning locomotives increased the incentive to move to a new technology.


On the other hand, perhaps the Southern Pacific realized that the technology of oil-burning locomotives had improved sufficiently that it was economically viable to utilize the new machines and, in the process, reduce negative externalities.

Does this provide any lesson for today?

I do wish I had more time to dig deeper into the backgrounds of these short stories. There has to be a lot more going on than seven lines worth of text.