An EconTalk Podcast Listening Guide

David Owen on the Environment, Unintended Consequences, and The Conundrum

Listen to the EconTalk podcast David Owen on the Environment, Unintended Consequences, and The Conundrum and consider these questions.

1. Roberts begins the interview alluding to Owen’s new book, The Conundrum. What is “the conundrum?”

2. Roberts and Owen agree that efforts at achieving greater energy efficiency might not be a good thing. Why, and what are some examples of increased energy efficiency leading to greater energy consumption?

3. Roberts explains the economic concept of elasticity. What does elasticity mean, and how does it relate to the discussion of energy efficiency?

4. How do the incentives to increase energy efficiency compare at the individual versus global levels? What suggestions might you offer to better align the two?

5. Roberts describes crushing a soda can as “an extraordinary human success story.” Do you agree or disagree with his characterization, and why?

6. Owen suggests that after a certain point, our increased affluence may actually decrease our well-being. What are some of the example he uses in making this point, and to what extent do you find them persuasive?

7. Why is New York City a “greener” place to live, according to Owen, than the Vermont countryside? How might moving to a city actually decrease one’s carbon footprint?

8. Roberts and Owens note the negative way in which cities are depicted by writers as various as Thoreau and Dickens. Why do you think this is the case? Can you think of any examples of positive portrayals of cities by other writers?

9. Owen argues that “traffic is not an environmental problem.” If it’s not environmental, what sort of problem is it, and to what extent do you agree with Owen on this point?

10. Toward the end of the interview, Roberts offers both an optimistic and a pessimistic reading of Owen’s book, The Conundrum. Summarize each reading. Which one are you more persuaded by, and why?