Friday, October 12, 2007

Global Warming and Whale Oil

Interesting thought process--let the market take care of it. Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, here on this very blog!

If oil runs out next year, or in the next decade, that will matter less than the rise of competitive sources of energy in the marketplace. Petroleum will go the way of whale oil, which in 1850 was the world’s fifth largest industry, Lovins said. That powerful industry lasted precisely until coal-based oils provided a cheaper alternative to the common lighting fuel. You don’t hear much about whale oil anymore.

“Whalers were astounded,” Lovins said, “when they ran out of customers before they ran out of whales.”

I also liked this sentence:

Here’s the trick of radical efficiency: Math.


gbradley said...

I don't know what the next Energy Age will be.
One of my favorite quotes, but I don't remember where I heard it, is "The Stone age didn't end because we ran out of stone". The Age of Oil will certainly pass before Oil is all gone.

allenm said...

That's Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the first Minister of Petroleum and a better man on the evidence then the Saudi royal family deserved to have in the job.

But it's not just whale oil or stones that are signposts of the direction of development, it's the entire history of technology.

World War I was caused, in no small measure, due to the insecurity of German access to that vital, natural resource, bird poop.

The mountains of bird droppings obtainable at the Guano Islands could be readily converted to nitric acid the starting point for, among other things, the production of fertilizer and explosives. Since Brittania ruled the waves, England had control over German food and munitions production. An unacceptable state of affairs. The Haber-Bosch process rendered the Guano Islands a historical curiosity by replacing the nitrates refined from the guano. Had the Haber-Bosch process been patented in 1905 rather then 1910 it might have, might have, prevented WW I.

The classic example of the triumph of technology, and capitalism, is the production of copper. Over time the demand for copper has gone relentlessly higher and the price relentlessly lower. There's no reason to think the same thing won't happen to the price of energy/chemical feedstocks provided the enviro-wackos don't mandate disaster.