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The Conundrum

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  342 ratings  ·  90 reviews
"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 con
ebook, 272 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Riverhead Books
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First, I need to say that I won this book as a first reads. That being said, I really enjoyed this book, honestly more than I thought I would. I generally don't read much non-fiction, but, like a lot of people nowadays, I'm concerned about the environment. This book was an eye-opener on so many levels and really shows the reader that what we think is 'doing our part' is not only never going to be enough at the current rate, but also may be doing more harm than good. So much of what the author sa ...more
Feb 01, 2014 Asma rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Asma by: Yussef
Shelves: never-finished
That main point of the book is that technology isn't necessarily good for the environment. We achieve advances by burning stuff: wood, coal, natural gas...etc.
Made me reconsider my whole set of thoughts, would've liked to finish it, maybe later.
2-2-2014 update:
This is one of those books that doesn't only change your whole way of thinking but also makes you keep on continuously thinking of it (like it was the only thing on my mind on today's ride), so it has been decided: I HAVE to
Owen makes the case that increasing efficiency is bad for the environment, because increasing efficiency is equivalent to lowering a price. When you lower the price of something, people often either buy more of it, or use the money saved to buy something else. The notion is called Jevon's paradox, after the Victorian British economist who enunciated it.

Own intermixes this basic idea with a fair amount of what might be called ranting, against for example organic farming and locovore movement. His
Dick Edwards
This is an interesting book that stands conventional wisdom on its head. Basically Owen is saying that increases in energy efficiency INCREASE energy consumption and environmental impact. Human behavior is the important thing. We must use less energy. The problem with the book is that the author’s proposed remedies seem not to be possible. He wants to make energy much more expensive, but only for the rich. It is not clear how this would be done, except that he hints that he would return to the i ...more
Lori Tatar
David Owen brings s a revolutionary way of thinking in "The Conundrum". I half expected a bunch of hullabaloo over nothing, but Mr. Owen makes a rational, well-supported argument to encourage us to re-think everything we believe we already know about our lifestyle and its impact to the environment. The book follows very logically what we have mistakenly allowed to guide our decisions, and provides information and real results of our actions. We almost need to unthink all the things we try to be ...more
Dec 11, 2011 Esther rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all
I received this book from a Good reads giveaway. I was very intrigued and wanted to know from a different perceptive how to be more revolutionary eco-smart. David Owen was the one to give me one. The Conundrum gives a no nonsense approach to serious problems we are continuing to create. The obvious issues that we continue to "try" and fix but in all reality are doing nothing but worsening. I recommend this book to all and hope that more real change will come. Thank you David Owen for stating wha ...more
I felt like a quick skim of this book was enough - but did find a few things that I really value. Did you know that U.S. EPA says that if the powder from inside a broken compact fluorescent gets on your clothing, you should not wash it but instead seal it in a plastic bag & throw it away?

Dense cities provide the best environmental/sustainable future for the human race but all are not equal. NYC & HONG KONG are paragons but Dubai, which from a distance appears similar, is a disaster.

Aaron Redman
In his 2011 book Conundrum, David Owen asks a fundamental question–can we commit to doing what is necessary to really Achieving Sustainability ? Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices, to reduce our consumption as both individuals and societies on a massive scale?
As his subtitle points out Owen is really asking these questions about energy and its impact on our climate not so much about Sustainability overall. But as climate change is the single biggest barrier to Achieving Sustainabi
A lot of this book is a bunch of over-the-top contrarianism. It's heavy on complaints and light on solutions, and to the extent that is has anything constructive to say I could sum it up in a sentence if you grant me a semicolon: "Increased energy efficiency is a bad strategy to reduce total energy usage; it only helps if we force ourselves to reduce absolute usage and then use increased efficiency to keep our standard of living high while we do so." There, now you don't have to read it.
David James
It's a little known fact that the more we design things to be energy efficient, the more energy we use. This seeming contradiction has been recognized by a few people since at least the nineteenth century, and among a growing number of economists it is now becoming an article of faith. As energy is freed up by replacing inefficient cars, appliances, devices, and the like with more efficient ones, humans simply increase their use of the newer items, ultimately outpacing the savings the new items ...more
This is an amazingly important book. I hope Nancy will read it, I hope Lee will read it, David probably has either read it or knows everything in it already, and I hope President Obama and every member of Congress will read it. There were so many important facts in this book and it concluded with no positive suggestions, only the reality of the conundrums we face. My head is spinning!
Noran Miss Pumkin
Give away book received from Goodreads first read give-away.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I spent my time reading this book fluctuating between thinking the author had a good point (10%) and that he was a complete idiot (90%). It describes why most of society's efforts to be more energy efficient are actually total wastes of time, but offers no solutions. He bases some of his findings on the idea that people that consider themselves "green", will still jump on the energy-use bandwagon, purchasing all the latest gadgets, thereby offsetting their "greenness". And he claims that when pe ...more
For anyone who is interested in the environment and/or how we should be dealing with energy, etc., this is a slim quick read book that may or may not challenge your thinking. It can be repetitive in the sense that the bottom line is this: we should not be thinking about improving efficiencies, we should be thinking about how to reduce......reduce how many miles you drive, how much electricity or gas you use in your home, what electronic devices you use. I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 beca ...more
Efficiency is at odds with our true environmental goals to use less. We recycle efficiency back into consumption and so increased efficiency actually makes our problems worse. Burning our world has makde us rich, healthy and comfortable and so it is very difficult for us to change. Owen argues that we need to make travel inconvenient - that would be a worthy goal. We need to drive less not drive more efficiently or, especially, more comfortably. The same goes for public transport - if trains wer ...more
Cars are evil, and we should live in dense cities are two propositions that are repeatedly impressed upon readers. That, and the conclusion that we lack the will, not the technology, to fight climate change. I agree with this conclusion and all its pessimistic implications, but I found the book lacking in meaty substance, and a tad toward sensationalistic writing than careful analysis. The complete lack of references and even a bibliography section undermines what the author is trying to say sin ...more
The "conundrum" is that measures we take to improve our energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions often have just the opposite effect. Owen writes well and entertainingly, but it is a familiar argument, and he can be repetitious in so short a book. I did discover a number of new explanations for things that, to me, are puzzling. Why is there so much personal air conditioning today, why income disparity actually leads to increased energy consumption, and several more. A wonderful feature is ...more
Juliet Wilson
Subtitled 'How Trying to Save the Planet is making our Climate Problems worse' this has to be one of the most depressing books I've ever read. Chapter by Chapter Owen dismantles the optimism behind green technologies and lifestyle approaches including solar power, energy efficiencies, wind power, 'back to the land rural living' and electric cars and shows that all of them in fact encourage consumerism and therefore increase the amount of resources we use, therefore making our environmental probl ...more
Gerald Kinro
Aug 19, 2012 Gerald Kinro rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gerald by: Wes
This book is based on the premise that man-caused climate change through greenhouse emissions, especially from burning fuels, defines “green”. On this matter Owens thinks outside the box. It is not our inefficiency in fuel burning that is the real problem. It goes deeper. We are a consumption driven and it is this drive that causes most of our problems. He cites a mass transit system putting more cars on the highway instead of less as an example. On the other hand, our economy is driven by consu ...more
Spoiler: We're hosed. The longer story: Just in terms of resources, every method scientists and inventors come up with to save or conserve energy, water, minerals, etc., results in additional use of resources. How? Whatever is saved is used in other ways (look up the Jevons paradox for more on this). Look around your house. Do you have more or fewer energy-using devices, appliances, etc., than you did ten or twenty years ago? Plus, new inventions mean people upgrade to the next new thing rather ...more
This book points out that advancements in fuel efficiency merely increase our desire for it. Example: making cars more fuel efficient and comfortable and cost efficient increases our desire to drive: take road trips, live farther from work, giving us suburban sprawl and more paved roads, which make us want to live there, drive there, in an endless circle. Conundrum. According to the author, the most ecologically correct people are city dwellers who have their workplaces and services close enough ...more
Dynamic, fast read. This book clearly and effectively attacks a lot of conventional wisdom about "green" living and energy issues, both at the societal and individual levels. "Efficiency" isn't really the answer - instead people should be living smaller (smaller living spaces), living closer (in cities and densely populated areas), and driving less (cars are major energy hogs).

Improved energy-efficiency on individual products, like cars and light-bulbs, does not actually lead to a drop in the t
Bessie James
I am half-way through this book and already I have learned about ten things that blew me away about our environmental mistakes:

1) New York, yes, that New York, is the greenest city in America. ("Oh, c'mon you've got to be kidding!" says the environmental saint in me but after I choked on my alfafa salad, I re-read it and it's quite undeniably true.)
2) China had a traffic jam that people were stuck in for ... wait for it ... two freakin' weeks. Why? Read David Owen.
3) Go to to f
May 11, 2013 Raymond rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeff Raymond
This book really is a conundrum. The conundrum, according to the book, is how technological advances and sustainable living practices are doing little to help the environment that said advances/practices are trying to save. A lot of it is based off of some compelling historical theoretical data, a lot of it based on simply how we've gotten used to living overall.

The conundrum, for me at least, is that the focus is overwhelmingly on the answer to this question and how to deal with it while comple
Jessica Singer
A very interesting read, this book follows what I've been learning in my BioEnvironmental Engineering course. This book puts in question what is the real outcome for more efficient technologies. Based on history, as we have been making our lives more efficient and easy for thousands of years, increasing efficiency actually increases consumption. Even renewable energy requires the emission of CO2 when creating every wind turbine, every solar panel. Unless someone can engineer something that elimi ...more
A very sobering, not to say depressing, book. I've had to remove my halo as a "concerned consumer" type of environmentalist and tuck it away. Turns out my sacred cows in that department had hooves of clay. Not that I won't still try to do my bit as best I can see how to do, but he makes it pretty clear that our global environmental challenges need a large, collective effort that relies a lot more on frugality than on increased efficiencies. Not to mention altering a certain delusional "developed ...more
Marc Morrison
As a person who hopes to have a career in the field of sustainability, i think that this book is essential to anyone that is going to be working in the realm of policy and making decisions about the way that we use energy as a country. It elucidates on the inherent human biases that can make use actually use more resources as we become more efficient in their use, an important consideration to keep in mind.
An interesting little book that was well worthwhile to read. Its whole subject is the Jevons Paradox, which was a theory by a 19th century guy named Jevons that increased efficiency causes energy consumption to increase rather than decrease as it becomes cheaper to burn energy. This sounds a little counter-intuitive at first, but then it does make sense after a little reflection. It is interesting to note that there are differences, for instance a more efficient furnace will probably save some e ...more
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“One of the least meaningful and most overused words in the English language is 'sustainability.' For most Americans, it means something like 'pretty much the way I live right now, though maybe with a different car.' A good test of any activity or product described as sustainable is to multiply it by 300 million (the approximate current population of the United States) and then by 9 or 10 billion (the expected population of the world by midcentury) and see if it still seems green. This is not an easy test to pass” 3 likes
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