Look out for David Owen's next book, Where the Water Goes.
The Conundrum is a mind-changing manifesto about the environment, efficiency and the real path to sustainability.
Hybrid cars, fast trains, compact florescent light bulbs, solar panels, carbon offsets: Everything you've been told about living green is wrong. The quest for a breakthrough battery or a 100 mpg car are dangerous fantasies. We are consumers, and we like to consume green and efficiently. But David Owen argues that our best intentions are still at cross purposes to our true goal - living sustainably and caring for our environment and the future of the planet. Efficiency, once considered the holy grail of our environmental problems, turns out to be part of the problem. Efforts to improve efficiency and increase sustainable development only exacerbate the problems they are meant to solve, more than negating the environmental gains. We have little trouble turning increases in efficiency into increases in consumption.
David Owen's The Conundrum is an elegant nonfiction narrative filled with fascinating information and anecdotes takes you through the history of energy and the quest for efficiency. This is a book about the environment that will change how you look at the world. We should not be waiting for some geniuses to invent our way out of the energy and economic crisis we're in. We already have the technology and knowledge we need to live sustainably. But will we do it?
That is the conundrum.
New Yorker staff writer Owen (Green Metropolis) takes a penetrating look at the earth's shrinking and misappropriated resources and the delusion underlying our solutions to these problems. In the process, he persuades us that the serious environmental problems that humanity faces won't be fixed by scientists and engineers, but by our behavioral changes, namely consuming less. Owen's latest becomes a declaration against the massive greenwashing campaigns of the past decade and the presentation of scientific data that lets us ignore questions we already know the answers to and don't like. Owen admonishes locavorism, excoriates solar panels, lambasts natural gas as a substitute for coal, faults compact fluorescent lights, and upbraids innovations in transit. As Owen notes, "efficiency initiatives make no sense, as an environmental strategy, unless they're preceded and more than negated by measures that force major cuts in total energy use." The book examines reality by taking a contrarian approach, exploring solutions generated by a wind think tank and wind lab. The crusading author zooms out to see the entire picture, noting that "what appear at the time to be valuable environmental breakthroughs often turn out to be long-term disasters in the making."
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Do we really want a green planet? We know how to fix it, but can't get ourselves to change. We only focus on reusing and recycling, but forget the first and most important part, REDUCE!
This is one of the most transformational books I've ever encountered. It seems an easy endeavor these days to pander to peoples proclivities in order to sell volumes and generate movie scripts. It is another thing indeed to challenge the very foundation of the effects of our personal choices on the world at large, which David Owen does in abundance with 'Conundrum'. I don't know if this was ever a best seller, but I definitely believe it should be read by every man, woman and child able to do so.
The author correctly and eloquently describes the conundrum, but gives up completely at the point of looking around for the solution. Instead, he lists a few dozen already-discredited ideas which he himself (in the rest of his book) explains at great length, won't work.
The obvious point that humans will need to learn to adapt to the high-carbon, perhaps hot-Earth that is an inevitable outgrowth of the conundrum, is totally unexplored. Our technology should (and will) shift from conservation and decarbonization to mitigation, by necessity, once the truly intractable depth of the very real conundrum reaches the mass consciousness.