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The Whale Oil Peak Curve

The Whale Oil Peak Curve

The American whaling industry rose from modest beginnings in the late 18th century to become an international giant to feed a growing demand for whale oil for lamps and industrial lubricants. The peak year was 1846 when 735 ships and 70,000 people served the industry out of New England ports such as New Bedford and Salem. As whale stocks and reserves decreased, whalers were forced to go farther and farther from their New England home ports. Increasingly whalers were forced to round Cape Horn and venture to far off and desolate locations such Hawaii (whaling led to New England missionaries and the rest is as they say is history), Guerrero Negro on the Baja coast and up to the Bering Strait.

By 1850s the voyages became longer, and risks on required return-on-investment became higher. The peak of production in 1846-47 led to the price of whale skyrocketing in 1855. That lag is similar to one we are seeing now in oil and related fossil fuels. The easy money of Atlantic and Pacific whaling was no more: the only remaining profitable ventures were to Arctic and Antarctic waters. Many ships returned empty, if at all. In 1871, most of the Arctic whaling fleet was crushed by early winter ice and lost at sea. This calamity, in conjunction with the long-term diminishing whale stocks, the diversion of investment capital to more profitable ventures, and the discovery, development, and refinement of abundant petroleum crude oil, struck the death blow to the American whaling industry. By 1890, less than 200 whaling vessels remained in operation. In 1971, the American whaling industry ceased to exist primarily due to pressure from environmentals groups. Today only the Japanese, Norwegians and Icelanders have any commercial whaling under the guise of scientific studies. A few other societies still engage in whale hunts, most notably the Innuit and the Faeroese but these are primarily are for whale meat.

Historians often debate the start of the modern era. Some argue for the Enlightenment when political thought led to revolution and reforms that saw the birth of representative government. Others point to the period after 1815 when the Industrial Revolution began in earnest. My work as a historian has primarily been on the second stage of industrial development in agarian societies covering the period between 1850 to 1930. And I view this period as the start of the modern era. But I get more specific than this. I argue that we entered the modern era in 1859 when by sheer happenstance two events took place that I argue changed the history of humankind.

The first occured on August 27, 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania when Edwin Drake built the first successful oil drill that allowed the exploitation of oil and fossil fuels on an industrial scale. But for that event, we could not support the nearly seven billion people currently on the planet. Biologists argue the carrying capacity of the planet but estimates range from just under one billion to about three billion. Life without oil implies a return to those levels of human population. I hope you see the problem.

The second event was the publishing of the most important book ever written on November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Oil isn’t going to be around forever. It is now behaving as whale oil did in 1855 shortly after whale oil production peaked. And if we are to survive on this planet, we had better get around to figuring out the next energy transition. We got lucky in 1859 and that has allowed for our successful explotation of every resource under the Sun (except the Sun ironically). As for Darwin, let’s hope he can save us from what I fear what is to come, a rise of religious fanaticism that is sure to come as our economy and societies begin to implode. We need a scientific approach to both energy depletion and climatic change. And we needed it 30 years ago.

Ugo Bardi has written an interesting article on the similarities between the curve of whale oil and oil over on The Oil Drum. He also written on this in the past. Here is an earlier article published by the Energy Bulletin.

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Posted in Energy & Peak Oil, Evolution, Science by Charles Lemos
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Is There an Investment Better than Oil?
August 25th, 2009 11:44
[…] There’s the “Peak Oil” argument too. Which makes sense in there isn’t too much “easy” oil left, but there’s still plenty of oil in the world. It’s just more expensive to produce. Also the truly economically viable alternatives will come along, but they’re realistically years away from mass implementation. Remember, it took a couple of decades for the world to get rid of its addiction to whale oil after Peak Whale Oil. […]

Better than Oil | Jutia Group
August 27th, 2009 08:51
[…] There’s the “Peak Oil” argument too. Which makes sense in there isn’t too much “easy” oil left, but there’s still plenty of oil in the world. It’s just more expensive to produce. Also the truly economically viable alternatives will come along, but they’re realistically years away from mass implementation. Remember, it took a couple of decades for the world to get rid of its addiction to whale oil after Peak Whale Oil.

Someone Missed A Science Class

Stunning in her stupidity. But let’s face it, it is more an indictment of the failure of the US educational system than anything else. We need to increase spending across the board in education but mostly in science. We’re still debating evolution. That’s simply unthinkable elsewhere.

In 1966, US-born males received 71 percent of science and engineering PhDs, US-born females earned 6 percent of those degrees, and foreign-born students received 23 percent of those doctorates. By the year 2000, US-born males received just 35 percent of science and engineering PhDs, while 25 percent of those doctorates were awarded to females and 39 percent to foreign-born students. The increase in female science and engineering PhDs is laudable as is the gain in overseas science PhDs. Still we need to increase the number of total PhDs and that investment starts by interesting children in science.

Unfortunately, I have to catagorize this in the science category because I don’t have a dumbass category.

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Posted in Science by Charles Lemos
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August 10th, 2008 3:02 pm
I can only repeat her question: What are they putting in the water? It’s the only thing that could explain such astonishing stupidity.

Charles Lemos
August 10th, 2008 3:48 pm
Very funny. I died laughing reading your comment. Thanks.

Charles Lemos
August 11th, 2008 7:09 pm
Also first-graders have better spelling.

August 12th, 2008 11:26 am
I saw this on Fark earlier. Look at her other youtube videos. She thinks the moon is a giant mirror and that the government is shooting gravity waves at her to shake her house. She obviously has paranoid schizophrenia or some similar disorder.

Charles Lemos
August 12th, 2008 11:32 am
Fonik, well that’s awfully sad. I more used the video to drive home the point that we need to increase spending on science and education generally.

The woman lives in Northern California and the video is a year old. Thanks.

August 12th, 2008 1:12 pm
It’s obviously all the gays putting the rainbows in her water not the government.

August 12th, 2008 1:18 pm
Funny. If I were that woman, I’d be wondering about all those sirens in the background.

August 12th, 2008 2:03 pm
she needs to put the video camera down. im sure there’s a board meeting that’s missing their CEO right now. also, i believe i’ve seen her at

August 12th, 2008 2:56 pm
That is a sure sign of aliens being on your yard and urinating

August 12th, 2008 8:16 pm
No. I think the woman is on to something. I’ve never seen a rainbow that close to the ground. Why is everyone acting like she’s some kind of idiot? It’s true that the liberal media puts stuff in our water to make us vote Democrat – why wouldn’t this have a visible manifestartion?

Brilliant Conspiracy Theory « danieldezago
August 13th, 2008 12:24 am
[…] is closing in on one of the stupidest things that I have heard in a long time. The original link is here, but I have reposted it below for your viewing pleasure. […]

August 13th, 2008 2:44 pm

I don’t see how this person makes you think that we need more funding for schools and science in particular. Since the state and especially the federal government began meddling in the education of our children, that education has been on the decline. This has not been due to a lack of funding or inability of the children to learn. This is due to the fact that the schools sponsored by the state rarely promote the idea that anyone is capable of learning and that everyone should be encouraged to learn and to think. However, we have mandatory schooling so we end up with a cookie cutter system that teaches the majority of our children to do as they are told and regurgitate facts but not to think. The only way to receive a proper education is to be able to think before you actually enter into the schooling system in which case you will excel in it and possibly given the leeway to actually learn. If you do not have the skills to excel in school before entering, there are few within the system that will attempt to provide you with them. Throwing more money at this will not resolve the issue. Starting kids earlier in life will not resolve the issue. Making them stay in school longer will not resolve the issue. The only way to resolve the issue is to reevaluate what it means to be an educated person. Does it mean that you can study for and pass certain exams and then promptly forget what you studied about or does it mean that you can think critically, learn new things and apply previous experience to new situations? This person may not be stupid at all, simply truly uneducated. Don’t forget there is a difference between the two.

Charles Lemos
August 13th, 2008 3:09 pm
Mshmsucks, I think you make valid philosophical points. The goal of any educational system is to encourage people to think critically. Aristole, Socrates and Plato proved that. This woman, it turns out, is a paranoid schizophrenic and obviously reality is beyond her grasp. I didn’t know that when I posted the video and yes I used it as a foil to argue for increased investment in science and in education generally. I don’t have the figures at hand but I think you’ll find that government spending in science as a percentage of GDP has been declining since the Reagan years. I think that is a huge error. Science doesn’t have all the answers but without it we’re not going anywhere.

Great comment, very thought-provoking. Thanks.

What the hell is going on, indeed? « Gynomite!
August 18th, 2008 10:59 am
[…] August 18, 2008 at 9:28 am (cool things i’ve found) (Comedy, conspiracy, cool stuff i’ve found, rainbows, science) My lovely Chicago girl D tipped me to this funny/sad video that is apparently trying to terrify us all about……. RAINBOWS! This woman is convinced that the fun rainbow that is made when you aim a hose at the sky is 1) a new phenomena, and 2) a result of something they’re putting in the ground. You must watch this. Via a great science blog called By the Fault.

Odds & Ends — Election Trends

Here are some particulars that may or may not change in 2008.

– Since 1904, Missouri has always voted for the eventual winner of the election in a presidential election, with the single exception of the 1956 election. Currently, Missouri is trending for McCain. If Obama does win then it would mark the Show Me State’s second deviation from the national norm.

– McCain leads in West Virginia by eight points. The last Democrat to win the White House and lose West Virginia was Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

– Obama leads in Nevada. The Silver State has picked the winner in the last seven elections. If Missouri falters, Nevada then assumes the title of most consecutive times of picking the winner.

– Since 1964, the winner has taken at least two of the following three states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama now leads in all three though the race remains competitive in the first two.

– From 1856 through 1960, Vermont always voted GOP. It is the only state in the Union that can make that claim. It voted for a Democrat for the first time in the LBJ landslide of 1964. The second time that the Green Mountain State would go blue was in 1992 when it voted for Bill Clinton. It has voted Democratic ever since.

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Posted in History by Charles Lemos
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October 5th, 2008 7:13 am
Another interesting tidbit: since Mississippi and Alabama both voted in the electoral college for the first time in 1820, have voted for the same party every single election except for 1840 when MS selected WH Harrison (W) and AL selected M Van Buren (D). The only other time of even minuscule disagreement was in 1960, when MS put forward two different slates of electors, one for Kennedy and one unpledged. All 8 of its electors eventually wen to the Democrat HF Byrd . Instead of two slates, MS split its slate into two groups of delegates, 6 of which eventually went to Democrat HF Byrd and 5 to Democrat JF Kennedy.

October 5th, 2008 3:43 pm
Interesting tidbits. I’m watching what’s happening in Virginia closely.

It’s hard to get a read on Virginia because there are such diverse areas…Northern Virginia is like a different state from the rest of Virginia.


Charles Lemos
October 5th, 2008 5:41 pm
More an oddity but since becoming the nation’s most populous state after the 1960 Census but only reflected in EC votes after 1970, California has yet to play a pivotal or determining role in any election. Its trove of electoral votes certainly provide a running head start to any candidate but it hasn’t been decisive in any election.

Granted it now is pretty blue, having last voted GOP in 1988. Its 55 EC votes, sure to grow in the next Census, seem likely to give the Democrats to give an edge going forward at least in the near term. The state GOP is pretty much moribund.

October 5th, 2008 11:59 pm
the trends show a obama win-but the most trying part of oct lies ahead. can he beat back the new mccain attacks? can obama tar mccain with keating 5? tues debate will be must see

Obama & Rashid Khalidi

Today in Boca Raton, Florida, Obama was peppered with a question from a Florida voter on his relationship with Rashid Khalidi, a Professor at Columbia University in New York. Obama became defensive and indignant over the question calling it “guilt by association.” ABC News reports on the exchange.

“You mentioned Rashid Khalidi, who’s a professor at Columbia,” Obama said. “I do know him because I taught at the University of Chicago. And he is Palestinian. And I do know him and I have had conversations. He is not one of my advisors; he’s not one of my foreign policy people. His kids went to the Lab school where my kids go as well. He is a respected scholar, although he vehemently disagrees with a lot of Israel’s policy.”

But then Obama pushed back, launching a broader defense of his associations, while acknowledging that some past relationships have caused people in the Jewish community concerns.

“To pluck out one person who I know and who I’ve had a conversation with who has very different views than 900 of my friends and then to suggest that somehow that shows that maybe I’m not sufficiently pro-Israel, I think, is a very problematic stand to take,” he said. “So we gotta be careful about guilt by association.”

Okey dokey. Since Obama omitted some facts, allow me. Obama failed to mention that Rashid Khalidi hosted a fundraiser for him when he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2000, or or that he attended a testimonial dinner for Khalidi and praised him when Khalidi left Chicago to chair Columbia’s Middle Eastern Studies Department, or that while he served on the Board of the Woods Fund, it voted to grant $40,000.00 to the Arab American Network, an organization headed by Khalidi’s wife, Mona Khalidi. The Woods Fund is also the focus of his relationship with William Ayers, the unrepentant Weatherman terrorist.

It’s guilt by association because such a relationship suggest a pattern of behaviour. These relationships are long-standing and run years not an occasional chat as Obama would have us believe. It’s a pattern of behaivour oft-repeated by Obama. He cultivated relationships in Chicago that now must be jettisoned because they imperil his Presidential ambitions.

Does this sound like a casual relationship? The story from the Los Angeles Time:

It was a celebration of Palestinian culture — a night of music, dancing and a dash of politics. Local Arab Americans were bidding farewell to Rashid Khalidi, an internationally known scholar, critic of Israel and advocate for Palestinian rights, who was leaving town for a job in New York.

A special tribute came from Khalidi’s friend and frequent dinner companion, the young state Sen. Barack Obama. Speaking to the crowd, Obama reminisced about meals prepared by Khalidi’s wife, Mona, and conversations that had challenged his thinking.

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. . . . It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

It sounds like Rashid Khalidi has a rather special role amongst Obama’s 900 friends, Mr. Popularity that he is. And at the very least Palestinians seem to expect something different from Obama, and that’s fine, my problem remains that Obama wants to be all things to all people. If Obama has told Arab-Americans one thing, then he should not be telling Jewish-Americans something else.

Today, five years later, Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois who expresses a firmly pro-Israel view of Middle East politics, pleasing many of the Jewish leaders and advocates for Israel whom he is courting in his presidential campaign. The dinner conversations he had envisioned with his Palestinian American friend have ended. He and Khalidi have seen each other only fleetingly in recent years.

And yet the warm embrace Obama gave to Khalidi, and words like those at the professor’s going-away party, have left some Palestinian American leaders believing that Obama is more receptive to their viewpoint than he is willing to say.

Their belief is not drawn from Obama’s speeches or campaign literature, but from comments that some say Obama made in private and from his association with the Palestinian American community in his hometown of Chicago, including his presence at events where anger at Israeli and U.S. Middle East policy was freely expressed.

At Khalidi’s 2003 farewell party, for example, a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, “then you will never see a day of peace.”

Obama is a tad hypocritical and dances around the truth. His relationship with Rashid Khalidi is anything but casual. It is rather damning perhaps less damning than his 20 year relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright or with Tony Rezko, but it is nonetheless a matter of concern especially since he keeps on telling different audiences different things. If the Senator were more forthcoming, then perhaps he wouldn’t face these sort of imbroglios.

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