A reaction to the oil supply squeeze in late 1976 and early 1977, this pro-oil report by Dr. Leslie G. Cook warned “the reader … to protect his own best interests in the face of impending energy limitations and constraints.” The report outlined future detriments to oil’s marketability, dismissed alternatives like solar, and assured government inaction. From Cook’s perspective, the environmental, technological, and economic risk related to the “energy crunch” was to be born not by industry or shareholders, but by the “public as individuals” and public utilities. As former program planning manager at Exxon’s Corporate Research Laboratories and head of the Physics Department of the Aluminum Limited Research Laboratory, Dr. Cook’s outlook contextualizes corporate knowledge associated with the risks of fossil-fuel dependency.1 As effects of those risks manifest themselves in the 21st century, this report helps inform the allocation of harm and culpability.
Cook’s report covered a wide variety of subjects including challenges with coal, the viability of uranium as an alternative energy source, and difficulties facing utility owners and operators. Highlighted below are comments pertaining to Dr. Cook’s solutions surrounding environmental and risk-apportionment issues.
As this was a guide to “defensive action,” Cook does not propose a proactive solution to the shifting energy landscape, despite finding the “business as usual” approach as “sheer folly.” Instead, he advised the “prudent business man” to take advantage of the “fluid and unresolved” issues, such as waste disposal, and “throw the burden of environmental problems as much as possible on others, and preferably on government managed organizations.” Complaining of developments in science that made testing more precise, Cook conceded that “environmental issues have become much more aggravated and serious during the last 35 years as a result of the very advances in science which have contributed so much to our way of life.” Cook pined to “reflect” the environmental problems “back onto the public” and to center the argument on “relative risks versus relative benefits.” Cook wanted the issues “resolved and settled so the business man, the investor, and the industries … [could] ‘get on with the job.'” Ultimately relying on government involvement to mitigate market uncertainty, Cook made his point clear: “[i]n summary the PRUDENT BUSINESS MAN AND INVESTOR WILL TAKE STEPS TO SEE TO IT THAT SOMEONE ELSE TAKES THE RISK” (emphasis not added).
1 Aluminum Limited is now a part of mining giant Rio Tinto Group.