The PBS Newshour Whale Oil Myth

Watts Up With That?

By Andy May

While researching fossil fuel history recently, I discovered a PBS article entitled “The Whale Oil Myth.” You can see the full article here. It is based on another blog post on the environmental history web site here. The authors are not identified, but the original ideas are from Dr. Bill Kovarik from the School of Communication at Radford University and the late Dr. Lester Lave, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University.

Both articles claim that petroleum-based kerosene, distilled with the Gesner refining process did not help save the whales from being fished into extinction. They claim that distinguished economists James Robbins (see his “How Capitalism Saved the Whales“) and Dr. Lester Lave (Dr. Lave has comments after both blog posts that are worth reading) are just plain wrong and whales would have done fine, even if kerosene had not replaced whale oil…

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