Whale oil was “indispensable”, too…


Whale oil lampsG.Paul Burnett/NY Times

Is the oil business the new whaling business? And, if so, is that a good sign or a troubling one?

Bear with us. Whaling, after all, was one of the world’s first great multinational businesses, a global enterprise of audacious reach and import. From the 1700s through the mid-1800s, oil extracted from the blubber of whales and boiled in giant pots gave light to America and much of the Western world. The United States whaling fleet peaked in 1846 with 735 ships out of 900 in the world. Whaling was the fifth-largest industry in the United States; in 1853 alone, 8,000 whales were slaughtered for whale oil shipped to light lamps around the world, plus sundry other parts used in hoop skirts, perfume, lubricants and candles.

❝ But, in fact, whaling was already just about done, said Eric Jay Dolin, who wrote some of the text for the exhibit and is the author of “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.” Whales near North America were becoming scarce, and the birth of the American petroleum industry in 1859 in Titusville, Pa., allowed kerosene to supplant whale oil before the electric light replaced both of them and oil found other uses.

❝ Eric Jay Dolin…the author of “Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America.”…(says) the message for today was that one era’s irreplaceable energy source could be the next one’s relic. Like whaling, he said, big oil is ripe to be replaced by something newer, cleaner, more appropriate for its moment.

“What you think you can’t live with today, tomorrow can become just a memory,” he said. “That’s what happened with whale oil, and eventually it’s going to happen to oil, but you don’t just turn off one switch and flip on a new one. It’s the product of a long, wrenching process that I hope leads us to a more sustainable path than the one we’re on now.”

RTFA to view a more complete picture of the parallels. The article was published in 2008, BTW.

Prices rise 12¢ at the pump in the last 3 weeks. Take a deep breath – it’s only the beginning.

Gas prices in the United States increased by more than a dime over the past three weeks, the first increase seen since mid-October…

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.35 as of Friday, the Lundberg Survey found. That’s an increase of 12 cents from the last survey of 2011, conducted December 16.

“The price hike comes from higher crude oil prices, which pulled up wholesale gasoline prices, but retailers have yet to pass through to motorists all the hikes they received,” publisher Trilby Lundberg said…

It’s impossible to say how much the wholesale price increase was affected by a higher tax on ethanol, she said. On January 1, an ethanol price subsidy in effect for 33 years expired.

The Lundberg Survey tallies prices at thousands of gas stations nationwide.

And then there’s this – looking forward:

Continue reading

Perils of plastics? Surveying the risks…

Plastics surround us. A vital manufacturing ingredient for nearly every existing industry, these materials appear in a high percentage of the products we use every day. Although modern life would be hard to imagine without this versatile chemistry, products composed of plastics also have a dark side, due in part to the very characteristics that make them so desirable — their durability and longevity.

Now Rolf Halden, associate professor at Arizona State University…has undertaken a survey of existing scientific literature concerning the hazards of plastics to human health and to the ecosystems we depend on. His findings, which appear in the latest issue of the Annual Review of Public Health, are sobering…

Halden’s study reiterates the fact that the effects to the environment from plastic waste are acute. Measurements from the most contaminated regions of the world’s oceans show that the mass of plastics exceeds that of plankton sixfold. Patches of oceanic garbage — some as large as the state of Texas — hold a high volume of non-biodegradable plastics. Aquatic birds and fish are increasingly victims because biodegradation processes are inadequate to eliminate this durable refuse…

Two broad classes of plastic-related chemicals are of critical concern for human health — bisphenol-A or BPA, and additives used in the synthesis of plastics, which are known as phthalates. Halden explains that plastics are polymers — long chains of molecules usually made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and/or silicon, which are chemically linked together or polymerized. Different polymer chains can be used to create forms of plastics with unique and useful properties…

Adding to the health risks associated with BPA is the fact that other ingredients — such as plasticizers — are commonly added to plastics. Many of these potentially toxic components also can leach out over time. Among the most common is a chemical known as di-ethylhexyl phthalate or DEHP. In some products, notably medical devices including IV bags or tubing, additives like DEHP can make up 40 or 50 percent of the product. “If you’re in a hospital, hooked up to an IV drip,” Halden explains, “the chemical that oozes out goes directly into your bloodstream, with no opportunity for detoxification in the gut. This can lead to unhealthy exposure levels, particularly in susceptible populations such as newborns…”

Ultimately, converting to petroleum-free construction materials for use in smart and sustainable plastics will become a necessity, driven not only by health and environmental concerns but by the world’s steadily declining oil supply. As Halden emphasizes, the manufacture of plastics currently accounts for about 8 percent of the world’s petroleum use, a sizeable chunk, which ultimately contributes to another global concern — the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Overdue. Yes, exactly one of the critical uses of computational analysis my life and career would be dedicated to – if I wasn’t an old cranky geek.

BBC wastes £406,000 a year on bottled water

The BBC has been accused of wasting public money and creating unnecessary environmental damage by spending nearly half a million pounds a year on bottled water. Responding to a freedom of information request from the Guardian, the public broadcaster said it spent £406,000 annually on large bottles for its water coolers.

In addition, BBC staff are allowed to order bottled water for the organisation’s hospitality events. The BBC refused to reveal how much it did spend on bottled water at the 103,000 events it held last year, claiming the cost of finding out was more than the Freedom of Information Act required.

Bottled water can also be ordered by staff for internal meetings, provided a meeting lasts more than two hours. The broadcaster said it was assessing the “health issues” of switching from bottled to mains-fed water…

Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said: “Workers work better if they are hydrated and have access to good clean drinking water. Bottled water is no better than mains water and the effect on the environment of all that water being transported around is enormous.”

Susie Squires, political director the Taxpayers Alliance said that paying for bottled water was an unnecessary waste of money. “What is wrong with the tap? It is the little things that add up to unacceptable waste at the BBC. Splashing out on bottled water is a frivolous expense. Families are having to cut back on the little luxuries and time the BBC did also…”

The water cooler bottles used by the BBC are also made from a type of plastic derived from oil, which is not recyclable and takes up to 1,000 years to biodegrade.

Dimwits who do everything in their lives by habit are no better than criminals who plot to screw us over. They just use a different excuse.