Re­fin­ing Na­ture

Stan­dard Oil and the Lim­its of Ef­fi­ciency

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Climate Change -

Jonathan Wla­siuk Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh Press (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $27.95 (184pp), 978-0-8229-6520-6

This historical look at the Stan­dard Oil Com­pany is en­light­en­ing on sev­eral lev­els and proves that the lessons of the past have never been more salient.

The rapid rise of John D. Rock­e­feller’s Stan­dard Oil Com­pany co­in­cided with a sharp rise in the pop­u­la­tion of the city of Cleve­land, the re­fin­ery pow­er­house of the late 1800s. How­ever, as Rock­e­feller’s for­tunes soared, Cleve­land’s en­vi­ron­men­tal qual­ity fell. This book pri­mar­ily ex­am­ines the trou­bled re­la­tion­ship be­tween Stan­dard Oil, the city that sup­ported it, and an ecol­ogy that would never be the same. The fi­nal chap­ter looks at the com­pany’s move to the city of Whit­ing in the Calumet re­gion of In­di­ana.

The book rep­re­sents a de­tailed, even in­ti­mate ex­am­i­na­tion of Stan­dard Oil and its im­pact both lo­cally and on the world. While this is in­du­bitably an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist book, or­ga­niz­ing the dele­te­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects of Stan­dard Oil’s prac­tices into the cat­e­gories of earth, air, fire, and wa­ter, it is also a primer on cor­po­rate ills that is worth read­ing by any stu­dent of the modern eco­nomic cli­mate in the United States. Stan­dard Oil’s hos­tile re­sponses to reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion, even when clearly nec­es­sary, and its ma­nip­u­la­tion of the me­dia fore­shadow many of the prob­lems that to­day’s law­mak­ers and ac­tivists face when at­tempt­ing to im­pose cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tions and car­bon taxes on large emit­ters and fuel pro­duc­ers.

Well re­searched and straight­for­ward, this book rep­re­sents the best of historical anal­y­sis. Not only does it re­veal a side to the oil in­dus­try that many Amer­i­cans may be un­aware of, but it does so in an un­bi­ased, fact-ori­ented man­ner that de­mands to be taken se­ri­ously. At the same time, the book is rel­a­tively easy to digest—a far cry from an aca­demic tome and def­i­nitely ca­pa­ble of reach­ing a pop­u­lar au­di­ence. A highly worth­while and use­ful read.

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