Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Conundrum

The Conundrum

3.3 3
by David Owen

See All Formats & Editions

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


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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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
“Owen's unflinching perspective is particularly refreshing.”—Mother Jones

“Elegant... Owen's core argument is not that we shouldn't try to save the environment. Rather, he says that our focus on technological innovation, particularly efficiency, is misguided.”—Slate

“A contrarian page-turner”—Bloomberg Businessweek

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.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Sales rank:
File size:
562 KB
Age Range:
18 Years


Meet the Author

David Owen is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author more than a dozen books. He lives in northwest Connecticut with his wife, the writer Ann Hodgman.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Conundrum 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the sort of book that seems to actually make you smarter since, despite it's relative brevity, it provides an entirely new perspective on our current environmental crisis. You'll seem very clever if you discuss its ideas with others and you'll certainly feel clever when you use its thesis to consider the ideas and claims of others.
TT2135 More than 1 year ago
Barnes and Noble keeps sending me these request for reviewing books even though many times I have asked them to stop. This wasnt a bad book until I received another request from B&N to review.