2018/09/26: The energy lessons here are many.
The industrial whale business tells us, for example, that human economies don’t respond to the depletion of any commodity with alacrity. Or reason.
The discovery and mining of petroleum could have prevented the slaughter of nearly three million whales in the 20th century, but it didn’t.
Just because a substitute exists — kerosene for whale oil or renewables for some fossil fuels — doesn’t mean the market will use them for conservation purposes.
The factory ship and its fleet could not exist without fossil fuels, which powered the whole operation and allowed for long-duration storage of whale products by running freezers (for meat) and processing whale oil so it would not become rancid.
The prospect of regulating whaling also provided whalers with an extra incentive to catch as many whales as they could before the regulations came into force.
Economists now call this perverse response to resource depletion the “green paradox.”
German economist Hans-Werner Sinn, for example, argues that society is playing out the same game with fossil fuels.
policies aimed at reducing future demand for fossil fuels could backfire by inducing resource owners to bring forward their extraction plans, thus accelerating global warming. In fact most oil-exporting nations such as Canada want to build more pipelines and export more carbon-heavy fuels as quickly as possible.
Technological innovations don’t retire resources or lead to conservation but increase production so as to increase revenue.
The widespread expectation that new technologies will help societies overcome environmental problems reflects the still common assumption that technologies will principally have the consequences intended by those who develop and/or deploy them.
Real change, he writes, “may require active suppression of fossil fuel use, such as by restricting the amount of fossil fuel that can be extracted.”