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Do you miss the New England whaling industry? Featured

At its 1857 peak, New England whaling industry employed over 10,000 men and a huge part of America's economy. Yet, no one wants a return of the whaling industry today...



Source:   Inspired by a comment from Climate Reality Presenter Dr. Peter Joseph, MD.   See also:   Earth The Operator's Manual by Dr. Richard Alley, 2011, pages 30 to 36.

We use petroleum oil as our primary energy source today in the 21st century.  In the 1800s, whale oil was the primary source of fuel for lanterns.  According to Dr. Alley (p. 32), "Whale oil was expensive, but the best whale oils gave a good, clear light with little smoke, little smell, and little danger of explosion."

Unfortunately, in 1871, 33 ships were crushed in the ice off the coast of Alaska, and 12 more were lost in 1876. The whalers shifted from Cape Cod to the Arctic because "just as in 2010 the oil-well drillers were in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico rather than up on shore, the easy-to-get resource had been exhausted."  (Alley, p. 34)

By the late 1800s, the ocean was not producing enough whales to meet demand.  In addition, beginning with the first modern oil well drilled in 1859 in Titusville, Pennslyvania, petroleum oil became easier to obtain than whale oil.  As the U.S. whaling fleet slowly faded away, U.S. capitalists took their investments elsewhere.

We could make that same decision today to switch from burning heavy polluting fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to cleaner energy sources, like solar & wind.  As Dr. Peter Joseph points out, 

"Yes, there are over 80,000 miners currently working within the coal industry.  However, with an investment in retraining in equal paying jobs above ground installing solar panels and maintaining wind turbines, I bet they would be very happy to be out of the dark mines." 



Update 5-14-12, TS:   Whales were among the major beneficiaries of oil's discovery.   Check out the second graphic, a cartoon that appeared in Vanity Fair in 1861, "Grand Ball Given by the Whales in Honor of the Discovery of Oil in Pennsylvania." 

The whales celebrate with champagne in front of banners that read, "We Wail No More for our Blubber,"  "Oil's Well that Ends Well," and "The Oil Wells of Our Native Land, May They Never Secede," and "Oily Gammon."  (Gammon can refer to a ham soup, or a quick victory in backgammon)  

Source:   Sag Harbor Whaling Museum,   Also reprinted in Alley p. 35.


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Brian Ettling
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byJohn Russell

May 14, 2012

I've heard this historical fact being used by those in denial to suggest we should always move forwards, not backwards (for example, backwards to windmills). Glad to see it being rescued!

byTom Smerling

May 14, 2012

1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Interesting indeed! If the above numbers are correct, then as a percentage of the total population, at the time of "peak whaling" in 1857, more Americans were employed in whaling than are employed in coal mining today.

Today's U.S. population is almost exactly 10 times greater than in 1857.

Population in 1860 census: 31,443,000
Population in 2010 census: 313,539,000

10,000 whalers / 31,443,000 total = 0.000318%
80,000 coal miners /313,539,000 = 0.000255%

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