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.

Small nations have learned from the Tet Offensive — while the White House hasn’t

❝ The attacks erupted before dawn on Jan. 30, 1968 and escalated to new levels of ferocity the next day. It turned out that tens of thousands of communist soldiers had begun a coordinated series of surprise attacks on more than 100 cities and U.S. bases in South Vietnam, taking the Americans and their local allies by surprise on the lunar new year of Tet.

North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap had planned the offensive to break the will of the United States and South Vietnam and end a long stalemate in the struggle by the North to reunite with the South under communist rule. And while Giap’s forces were eventually pushed back with huge losses, he did accomplish his wider objective of undermining American and South Vietnamese confidence in the war effort…

❝ The attacks erupted before dawn on Jan. 30, 1968 and escalated to new levels of ferocity the next day. It turned out that tens of thousands of communist soldiers had begun a coordinated series of surprise attacks on more than 100 cities and U.S. bases in South Vietnam, taking the Americans and their local allies by surprise on the lunar new year of Tet.

The lessons of Tet still resonate. “Tet shaped the world within which we live today: In an era when Americans still don’t fully trust government officials to tell them the truth about situations overseas, and don’t have confidence that leaders, for all their bluster, will do the right thing,” writes Princeton historian Julian Zelizer in the current issue of The Atlantic. “Tet is an important reminder that for liberals and conservatives sometimes a little distrust is a good thing. Particularly at a time when we have a president who traffics heavily in falsehoods, Tet showed that blind confidence in leaders can easily lead down dangerous paths.”

Say it again, Julian. Trust in a pathological liar isn’t likely to turn out well.

Earth’s groundwater mostly unrenewable in human time


Click to enlarge

❝An international team of hydrologists has found that much of the Earth’s groundwater isn’t renewable within a human lifetime after mapping out the important resource…❞

❝“The goal of this study was to calculate, for one of the first times, how much groundwater we have on this planet,” said Scott Jasechko, an assistant professor in the U of C’s department of geography who co-authored the study. “This is water that is held within pore spaces in rock and soils underneath our feet.

❝“Of all of the fresh and unfrozen water on this planet, about 99 per cent is groundwater.”…❞

❝Although the volume is immense, Jasechko said only a small, finite fraction of the resource is being replenished.

The study showed that six per cent of water in the uppermost portion of the Earth’s landmass is renewable within a human lifetime or 50 years.❞

❝The research comes as the global demand for water grows, particularly with climate change.

❝Jasechko said it provides important information for water managers and policy developers, as well as scientists, to manage groundwater resources in a more sustainable way…❞

❝Groundwater is an important resource, with about two billion people worldwide relying on it for drinking water. About 40 per cent of irrigation used for food production uses groundwater, said Jasechko.

❝It also supplies water and nutrients sustaining aquatic ecosystems in lakes and rivers.❞

Important point to make. As technology empowers water decisions ranging from re-ruse, recycling, desalination – there shouldn’t be any reason to short the husbanding of available groundwater. The expense of doing so – even as the economics of scale add to the ease of alternative means of providing water – still makes sensible use reasonable.

African Union opens new $200 million headquarters in Ethiopia

Standing on what was once Ethiopia’s oldest maximum security prison, the new African Union headquarters funded by China is a symbol of the Asian giant’s push to stay ahead in Africa and gain greater access to the continent’s resources.

Critics point to an imbalance in what they see as the new “Scramble for Africa”. But the prospect of growing Chinese economic influence is welcomed by African leaders, who see Beijing as a partner to help build their economies at a time when Europe and the United States are mired in economic turmoil…

The brown marble and glass monolith was fully paid for by China, right down to the office furniture, and cost $200 million. The office complex and almost 100-metre tower is Addis Ababa’s tallest building by far.

For the past decade, Africa has recorded economic growth of an average of 5 per cent but its underdeveloped infrastructure has in part hindered its capacity to develop further. Chinese companies are changing that. They are building roads and investing in the energy sector, and are active in areas such as telecoms technology…

Beijing now appears keener to flex its diplomatic muscle in the continent. It has also contributed $4.5 million for the African Union peacekeeping force battling Islamist militants in Somalia.

Outside the complex, hundreds of Chinese support staff, delegates and officials snapped pictures of their country’s most ostentatious presence yet in Africa. Yet African officials insist they aren’t being manipulated by China, and say the relationship is not based on aid but on trade and development.

There are people who still consider Africans like children who can be easily manipulated. The good thing about this partnership is that it’s give and take,” said the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ambassador to Washington, Faida Mitifu.

In a related story, Congressional Republicans are supporting – well, nothing that I could find.

I googled “Congressional Republicans aid to Africa” and got bored after wandering through several pages mostly of Republican candidates for president each trying to prove he’ll do the most to reduce foreign aid to anyone!

US-Canada Arctic border central to exploiting maritime riches


Like a couple of cop cars in a parking lot sharing doughnuts

Canada and the United States are beginning a five-week joint Arctic survey, part of which will take place in a section of the energy-rich Beaufort Sea that is claimed by both countries.

The survey is intended to help the neighbours determine the extent of their continental shelves.

The bi-national study is part of an ongoing race by the Arctic nations – the US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark – to gather evidence to submit claims under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

It could grant them exploitation rights to potential energy and mineral wealth above and below the sea floor.

Currently, coastal nations can claim exploitation rights in an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – a 200-mile (322km) nautical area beyond their land territory.

If the Arctic nations can prove that their submerged territory extends beyond 200 miles, they could gain access to vast untapped resources which lie beneath the pristine waters of the polar region…

The most absurd crap rationale for exploitation and profit since the 19th Century.

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Competition? The more the merrier.


Suzlon wind farm at Sanodar, India
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Demand for new wind power could far outstrip supply under a new global climate deal, the founder of Asia’s largest wind turbine maker said this week, calling for new manufacturers to help industry to fill orders. Tulsi Tanti, also chairman of India’s Suzlon Energy, said due to the size of the $53.5 billion wind turbine market, he does not consider existing manufacturers as competition.

“The market is so large. With a deal agreed here it will grow even bigger, so there’s a lot of room for the new players,” Tanti said on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen. “The industry hopes to grow more aggressively. The 10 (leading manufacturers) are not able to satisfy these targets, so we need more players…”

“We don’t see much immediate benefit in terms of existing technology, but a clean technology transfer agreement will mobilize resources for new technology, to develop the next generation of wind turbines,” Tanti told Reuters. “It will bring economies of scale that will give us an opportunity to standardize the technology … but the cost of wind technology has to come down to accommodate mass production,” he added, likening it to the auto industry.

With its stake in Germany’s REpower, Suzlon is the world’s third largest wind turbine manufacturer behind Denmark’s Vestas and Spain’s Gamesa.

Wind power could help meet up to 65 percent of the emissions reductions pledged so far by developed nations, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. Tanti said that without a new climate deal, wind power is still forecast to supply some 20 percent of global energy by 2030. With a deal, he said that that could grow to 30 percent, resulting in a 10 percent cut in global carbon emissions.

Come on down and join the fun!

We’ve had decades of oil-based conservatives formulating U.S. energy policy. No wonder we have no one in the top three.