Book Review V

by zenquaker

The Conundrum

by David Owen

The greenest city in the United States is New York City. Local farming is inefficient and bad for the environment. But at the same time increases in efficiency are bad for the environment. Saving money and energy by driving a Prius will probably make you feel justified in driving more, using up the energy you saved. Even if you don’t drive more, the money you save you will use to consume more stuff that will again use up the energy (and other resources) you saved. That’s old news. It’s called the Jevons paradox, and it dates from the 19th century. That is one conundrum in this book, but the real one is that to really save the environment we are going to have to consume less, and that’s the solution we don’t want, can’t sell, can’t pass into legislation, and can’t turn into an international treaty.

Owen presents a lot of contrarian, sometimes counter-intuitive arguments in a clear and reasonable fashion [+]. He is a little light on references to support some of his points, and I find the references are a little bit buried (at least on my eco-friendly Kindle) [-]. However, he does reference several books where he gets much of his information from [+], and I will be adding them to my reading list. He presents counter arguments to what his talking about [+], even if he does slant things toward his argument (which is to be expected). But he gives you enough information about the counter arguments and arguers to track them down and decide for yourself, which I will also be doing. He also makes it clear that in most cases it is impossible to prove one way or the other [+]. In most cases the economic and social systems involved are too complicated to capture with mathematics. But if you look at history, it becomes very hard to argue with him.

This book really clarified something for me in terms of non-fiction. There are two kinds of non-fiction in the world. The first kind gives you new information and possibly challenges your assumptions. It makes you rethink things and it changes your life, even if in a small way. That’s information. If non-fiction doesn’t change you, then it’s infotainment, not information. Infotainment is fine, as long as you recognize it for what it is. This book is information [+].

This was a hard review to write. I want to write about the quality of the writing, not the content. But I found the content of this book to be very powerful. It has pushed me harder in directions I am already going, such as vegetarianism. At the same time it has completely uprooted other directions in my life, like my retirement plans. This book gets two points of oomph for being the rare reasoned and logical treatise on environmental issues, and for changing my entire perspective on a whole host of issues, even though I don’t agree with everything he says.

If you care at all about the environment, you owe it to yourself and the environment to at least read this book and think about it.

Final Rating: 10/10

Best Quote: “You’d think that not having the bubonic plague would be enough to put most of us in a cheerful mood–but, no, we want a hot tub, too.”