The industrial revolution introduced machines into our culture. These mechanical servants worked non-stop to perform perfunctory tasks. And we were happy. But whales of the time weren’t happy. As it turned out, whales were a necessary ingredient to keep the machines running. Or more precisely, the whale’s bodies ensured the success of the industrial revolution.

Did you ever think that animals were a repository of energy? Most aren’t as land animals typically keep minimal stores of energy. That is they have little fat. Whales however do have lots of fat. Fat to make candles, lubricating oil, lamp oil and such. While hunting whales had been going on for tens of thousands of years, only during the industrial revolution were humans capable and eager to make whale hunting a lucrative industry.

Using recent records, we see that from 1900 to 2015 humans killed an estimated 3.3 million whales. That’s about 138e6 tonnes of flesh with fat containing about 5.1e17 Joules of energy. Many more were killed in the centuries before. Some species of whales are making a population recovery. Most aren’t. Maybe their numbers will return in a few hundred years. If people let them live.

Our culture has moved past the industrial revolution. This is good news for the remaining whales. But think of the whale industry as another example of humans consuming natural resources. With the result being that the resources remain depleted. ¬†We can’t return to industrial scale whaling as there aren’t enough whales. Now expand this example and consider, “What happens to machines and our culture if we deplete all readily available energy resources?”

Deep blue