This may enable short-term calculations, but long-term viability depends on other criteria.
When I drove a big truck, I sometimes moved onions from southern New Mexico to eastern Pennsylvania-- and in the process spewed diesel exhaust across fifteen hundred miles. In the following article, written years ago, I describe the difference between two real horses, three boys and the industry necessary to refining steel and gas and transporting onions fifteen hundred miles. The difference is now I note the effects of productivity as a criterion on US government policy. It would probably take a hundred full-time people to grow onions in eastern PA...
Recently I delivered onions from southern New Mexico to a modern produce warehouse facility in eastern Pennsylvania, over fifteen hundred miles away from where the plants were grown.
The industrialized farm in extreme southern New Mexico, where everywhere one sees Border Patrol vehicles, is a model of "modern" industry, with tiny plastic tubes (made of petroleum) inserted to a depth of one foot underground delivering water and nutrients to billions of onion plants, and with dozens of low-paid Mexican workers toiling on a concrete floor in a subhuman factory environment for long hours-- (the owner told me he RESENTED the rain which was causing PROBLEMS to his control of the plant growth by his method of cultivation.)
This Pennsylvania facility is unique among produce warehouses in that no truck drivers were allowed, much less required, on the unloading dock. All its equipment was spotless and functional, unlike most places, where they have a minimum of working equipment, the infrastructure is crumbling, and unloading is done by "lumpers," independent contractors who work for cash, without benefits or insurance.
While I was waiting for my onions to be unloaded and inspected, two horse-drawn Amish wagons pulled up in the parking lot, one after another, loaded with big boxes of ears of corn on pallets. Both wagons were driven by boys in their early teens, one wagon had three boys whose ages went from 17 to 13, to about 7. While a forklift unloaded the pallets of corn, the boys took out a large flat aluminum snow shovel and scooped up the residue of the horses and stowed it in a plastic fifty-five gallon garbage can, and took it away with them. I imagine nothing goes to waste on an Amish farm. The horses were absolutely beautiful Clydesdales in matched teams, very calm and even-tempered. Each boy wore black dress pants and white shirts with suspenders and each boy had a unique hat.One had a black fedora with a narrow brim, one a straw hat, and the smallest boy had a baseball cap.
They were very serious and competent as they went about their business, and I wondered how many more folks would be employed in a horse-drawn economy with each wagon carrying a max of four pallets, while each big truck in the lot carried twenty-five to forty pallets. The horses left only fertilizer as a residue of their journey, while the trucks spewed clouds of toxic diesel fumes from the imported petroleum they required to fuel the huge engines needed to pull forty tons of produce and machine through the mountains of New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
I couldn't help thinking that the horses were a better solution to the cartage equation than the trucks, which required a huge environmentally toxic industrial base to do the same job, and had to travel nearly two thousand miles to supply onions that could be grown right where the parking lot had paved over fertile ground. And while I feel my truck has its limited aesthetic appeal, those horses completely outclassed trucks in beauty and engineering elegance. Besides, those boys will be very unlikely to end up in an urban jungle, unemployed, using drugs to overcome their misery-- or in the fields and cities of a foreign country, killing those who oppose US domination of their lives and national resources.
Those boys will not be forced by economic necessity to drive all night, lie in logbooks, and generally abuse themselves to earn enough to pay fuel and utility bills and insurance and AT&T. It requires no Mid-Eastern oil and no steel mills to get that corn to market. We would not have to poison the environment to refine steel and diesel fuel, and it would employ ten times the folks to get the job done, impoverishing CEO's and their minions, like bankers who can put a cost- benefit price ratio to human and terrestrial life that emphasizes the benefit to capital and minimizes the sustenance of life itself.
Those horses were a beautiful and elegant solution to so many problems that people and other creatures are dying for. I can't accept that humans were meant to live only to secure enough dollars to pay someone else who owns the water, the land, etc. Surely this stage of industrialization is an intermediate one. But vested interests are still exploiting the planet and subjugating people, and no one seems to question why we work more than hunter-gatherers, who worked ten hours a week to sustain their families, and paid no one to live on earth.