Unintended Consequences and The Conundrum of Sustainability

Considering the size of the global economy, driving toward sustainability is a very challenge and complex puzzle. I recently heard New Yorker writer David Owen talk about the challenges of complexity on the EconTalk podcast David Owen on the Environment, Unintended Consequences, and The Conundrum. I am not sure I absolutely agree with Owen, but his arguments are definitely worth considering. He challenges us with the question, what if our efforts to live in a more sustainable way are  actually do more damage than good? One of his examples is with efforts to make more fuel efficient cars. By making cars more efficient, we are actually making driving cheaper and encouraging people to use more gas (and therefore, putting more carbon into the atmosphere). In this podcast, Owen is talking about his new book The Conundrum: How Scientific Innovation, Increased Efficiency, and Good Intentions Can make Our Energy and Climate Problems Worse. Here is the podcast description from the EconTalk website:

  • David Owen of the New Yorker and author of The Conundrum talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the ideas in his book. Owen argues that innovation and energy innovation have increased energy use rather than reduced it and similarly, other seemingly green changes do little to help the reduce humanity’s carbon footprint or are actually counter-productive. Only large reductions in consumption are likely to matter and that prescription is unappealing to most people. Owen points out that New York City, ironically perhaps, is one of the greenest places to live because of the efficiencies of density. The conversation concludes with a discussion of how to best approach global warming given these seeming realities.
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