Peak oil, 19th century edition

by John MacBeath Watkins

Of course, part of this is about the increasing wages for American sailors, and part of the story is the Civil War, but part of it is about the limited number of whales. Unlike petroleum, whale oil relies on a theoretically renewable resource, but if you kill off too much breading stock, the resource stops renewing. So part of the story is about the tragedy of the commons.

And of course, coal oil and petroleum came along and provided affordable fuel to replace the whale oil at a propitious time. What other source of fuel will replace petroleum?


  1. Cool chart.

    Another example: I read that the Roman Empire collapsed under the pressures of Peak Wood.

    Peak Oil discussions are usually too simple.

    First, we can harness new supplies of oil if we're willing to sink to lower depths to get it - tar sands and deepwater drilling (and fracking for natural gas) are the current examples. If we don't mind accelerating climate change and killing the ocean and contaminating ground water, we can get a lot more oil. It's not worth it, especially when so much oil contributes so little to human happiness.

    Also, oil isn't the only resource that is hitting a peak. Life expectancy is no longer climbing, despite ever-increasing application of medicine. Community is almost completely converted in to money. And so on. In some sense, we are experiencing Peak everything.

  2. The Population Bomb predicted that we'd reach peak minerals, as well, but most of them haven't been a problem because there really is plenty as long as you're willing to invest in extraction. But oil's stored sunlight, like a truly ancient peat bog. It's things connected to life that we can run out of. Drinkable water, for example.


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