Man, Energy, and Society

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Book: Earl Cook. Man, Energy, and Society : on energy and economics (Biophysical Economics


"The late Earl Cook, a geologist and former Dean of Geosciences at Texas A & M University, was interested not only in empirical modeling of resource supply systems, but also in broader social issues associated with energy use, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. Cook’s Man, Energy, and Society stands as one of the most complete books on the subject. Cook was concerned with the dangers associated with the apparent incompatibility of our society’s fervent, almost religious devotion to economic growth, and the fact that such growth was dependent upon a finite, nonrenewable stock of fossil fuel.

Cook observed that:

- Progress has depended upon the increasing control of energy...the Rhinelanders harnessed oxen, the Benedictines waterpower. The maritime nations (Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Great Britain) set the winds to work. We, the Americans, started with wood, switched to coal, then to petroleum in our race to the world’s largest level of material affluence and national strength. Without abundant and cheap energy, Europe could not have recovered so astonishingly fast from the ravages of World War II, and Japan could not have shot to world prominence as an industrial power.

Cook argued that industrial society, and the U.S. in particular, is faced with a resource watershed unparalleled in history. With the quality of fossil fuels rapidly diminishing, industrial society has two options. The progress option, as described by Cook, is to go on believing that omnipotent technological change and so-called economic laws will rescue us from any resource-related problems. The prudence option is to adjust our values and lifestyles commensurate with energy and resource realities. Cook warns that:

The greatest danger in our bemused drift towards the energy waterfall is that the resulting shock will find us stripped of democratic government by an opportunistic group that comes out on top in the wreckage, a group that controls us through their control of the energy systems... " (