The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can Make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse

Overview


Hybrid cars, fast trains, compact florescent lightbulbs, solar panels, carbon offsets: everything you've been told about being green is wrong. The quest for a breakthrough battery or a 100 mpg car is a dangerous fantasy. We are consumers, and we like to consume greenly and efficiently. But David Owen argues that our best intentions are still at cross-purposes to our true goal: living sustainably while caring for our environment and the future of the planet. Efficiency, once considered the holy grail of our ...
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Overview


Hybrid cars, fast trains, compact florescent lightbulbs, solar panels, carbon offsets: everything you've been told about being green is wrong. The quest for a breakthrough battery or a 100 mpg car is a dangerous fantasy. We are consumers, and we like to consume greenly and efficiently. But David Owen argues that our best intentions are still at cross-purposes to our true goal: living sustainably while 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—we have little trouble turning increases in efficiency into increases in consumption.

David Owen's elegant narrative, filled with fascinating information and anecdotes, takes you through the history of energy and the quest for efficiency. Owen introduces the listener to some of the smartest people working on solving our energy problems. He details the arguments of efficiency's proponents and its antagonists—and in the process overturns most traditional wisdom about being green.

This is a book that will change how you look at the world. Scientific geniuses will not 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.” (Feb.)
From the Publisher
"After Green Metropolis, a revelatory exposition of why urban life is 'green,' Owen—-brisk, funny, elucidating, and blunt—-illuminates a wide spectrum of environmental misperceptions in this even more paradox-laden inquiry." —-Booklist Starred Review
Kirkus Reviews
Americans talk a good game when it comes to environmental responsibility, but all we care about is the price of gas. Is there any news in the observation that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Probably not, though New Yorker staffer Owen, who established his credentials as an environmental scold with Green Metropolis (2009), seems surprised and irritated to learn that there are trade-offs involved in trying to live responsibly in the world. Take those pesky Vermonters, for instance, who think of themselves as solid citizens on their back-to-the-land organic farms, but who drive 10 times more than urban New Yorkers. Or take the advocates of high-speed trains between, say, San Francisco and Los Angeles, who aren't solving anything by encouraging Californians to travel faster on the way to whatever it is they're up to. Owen--who holds New York City as a model for most things--thrives on the straw man: Put a solar panel array on your roof, he suggests, and you'll start leaving your lights on throughout the day just because you have the illusion of free power for the burning. As for those customers on high-speed trains? Well, the minute they took their cars off the interstate, someone else, sensing the lessening in traffic, would come along to take their place. A little of this contrarian stuff goes a very long way. Owen does make useful points by encouraging us to reframe problems of the environment more precisely--urging, for instance, that the key to protecting wilderness is to make cities livable enough that people want to stay in them rather than out in the sticks and "not to encourage sprawl by treating cities as soul destroyers." But that's an old argument: Read Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford or J.B. Jackson for the particulars. Readers seeking environmental snark will enjoy the book. Others, probably not.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781780721057
  • Publisher: Short Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 5/28/2012
  • Sales rank: 1,147,575

Meet the Author


David Owen is a staff writer for the New Yorker and the author of a dozen books, including The Man Who Invented Saturday Morning: And Other Adventures in American Enterprise.

An AudioFile Earphones Award winner and Audie Award finalist, Patrick Lawlor is also an accomplished stage actor.

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