The first great energy transition: how humanity gave up whaling | The modern oil industry was born in 1859, yet it would take more than 100 years – and the near-extinction of a species – before it replaced blubber. As we now seek to replace oil in turn, are there lessons to be learned?

As the modern oil industry emerged in 1859, it took over a century and the near-extinction of a species before it replaced whaling as the primary source of energy. Now, as we strive to transition away from oil, can we learn anything from this first great energy shift?

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“whaling did not end because the industry found its conscience or progress made everything better. Whaling ended because there were no longer enough whales to turn a profit”


The lesson is that no amount of information in the world makes us learn from our past.


When we discovered the silicon transistor it was because we had mined Germanium almost completely out of existence. Turns out silicon was actually superior in every way- more abundant, lower thermal characteristic, more efficient, but we didn’t discover it until there was no alternative left.

Same with aerosols. Modern aerosol propellants weren’t invented until there was a massive reward offered due to international bans after ripping a huge fucking hole in our ozone layer. They are now cheaper, cleaner, and easier to manufacture than they were in the 70s. This was more of a “close call” because technically the earlier tech was still available.

The scientific advancements due to replacing whale oil were *massive*, but we didn’t pass any environmental protections until *after* superior products achieved market saturation (ha, oil pun).

This is what we’re going to see with energy: it won’t be motivated by a sense of ethical responsibility, it will be motivated by supply and demand. And we will once again hang onto the old way of doing things until we simply can’t afford to, and then in a panic (and at billions of dollars of expense) refocus our industrial talents to replace it.

Or not; it’s still entirely possible we don’t do it in time and instead incur unfathomably enormous costs restructuring the very foundation of our infrastructure after the final oil shortage and go Mad Max up in this bitch.


It didn’t take near extinction, they just ran out of whales to keep it profitable.


Seems like the answer is to engineer a better solution that’s cost way cheaper then the thing we’re replacing. No ethics. Just pure economics


We need to give up plastics to give up petroleum, energy is moving towards fusion, but we still need oil


Eh, yes and no. So much has changed from then that it’s less and less of a fair comparison but of course that doesn’t discount learning from the past and analyzing for trends. Ultimately, so long as the vast majority of the world practices the capitalism we’ve seen in the past 100 years then ultimately it’s when the other solution isn’t just cost neutral, but provenly more profitable than the previous technology, that’s it adopted and en mass.


Oil is no where near being done. 50%of ppl think climate change will kill them in their lifetime and nato and other environmental study organizations disagree but it doesn’t make the online Pravda or cable news.


Immolation in general as an energy source is just a bad idea when you live on a planet with an atmosphere containing oxygen.


The lesson should have been to make the change from oil to renewables 50 years ago.


There are HUGE lessons to be learned the the old white man doesn’t give a fuck about anything but money. There are many viable options than petroleum, but no money in it. It’s disgusting.


Whale oil could be a renewable resource if we managed the whale population the same as we manage other wildlife, with scientific population controls.


One lesson: hurry the hell up and transition away from incineration


And when we starting running out of oil we will extinct whales, I said it now.


Space mining is the way.

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