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Vacation Reading

by Michael Levi
November 1, 2010

It’s time for another installment of holiday reading. What holiday, you say? Mine. Yep, I’ve been away since last Thursday, and you haven’t even noticed. (I’ll be back this Thursday.) But as my absence stretches into its fifth day, I grow warier of prescheduled posts: how embarrassing would it be if my software had just automatically posted something precooked about how the UN negotiations are a mess, despite an earth-shattering treaty having been agreed to yesterday?

Nope, no such monumental risks for me. Instead, here are a few things I’ve been reading (not while on vacation; please!), and that you should read too:

The Plundered Planet: Why We Must – and How We Can – Manage Nature for Global Prosperity (Paul Collier, Oxford University Press, 2010). It’s pretty hard to deliver a worthy follow up to The Bottom Billion, and in many ways this book falls short, but for people who spend time thinking about the dilemmas involved in resource exploitation, it’s a must read. Collier faces the very difficult fact that natural resource exploitation (including, in many cases, oil production) appears to be the only way out of abject poverty for many in the bottom billion. His philosophical musings on the tradeoffs between exploitation and growth are immensely thought provoking, even if you don’t agree with everything he says, and his analysis of how to manage resource extraction to deliver the widest possible benefits is spot on. Alas the last part of the book, on climate change, is disappointingly muddled – Collier has a keen understanding of how political economy gets in the way of reasonable policy at the national level, but seems to forget that when he starts to look at international politics. Better advice: take Collier’s philosophical pointers, and figure out for yourself what they means for climate change.

Hearth Surgery: The Quest for a stove that can save the world” (PDF) (Burkhard Bilger, The New Yorker, December 2009). Yes, this is a bit late, but I just read it last week, and I’m sure many of you haven’t read it either. This long essay takes you inside the clean cookstove community and the challenges involved in designing and manufacturing a healthier cookstove for the masses. With the new U.S. commitment to the Global Allicance for Clean Cookstoves, it’s timely once again. My only beef is that’s it’s pretty much all about technology, when as best as I can tell, the challenge is at least as much about finding a business model (or several) that works. I’ll actually have more to say on that in the near future.

Playing Our Game: Why China’s Rise Doesn’t Threaten the West (Ed Steinfeld, Oxford University Press, 2010). I haven’t actually read this one yet. But after I blogged back in September about the potential for mutual gains as China and the United States develop different parts of the solar value chain, a well-placed friend recommended that I read this. The book apparently makes a similar argument for a much broader swath of the economy: according to the blurb, “even as Chinese companies assemble products for export to the West, the most valuable components for those products come from the West.” The book gets into a host of other issues too. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Josiah

    “Nope, no such monumental risks for me.”

    Humor on a CFR blog. I like it. ;D

  • Posted by Michael Wara


    I just read Playing Our Game on a trans-Pacific flight. An excellent read and a refreshing treatment of the China-US problem. I had not realized that Steinfeld was one of Cunningham’s coauthors on the Cleaner Plants Grayer Skies paper.

    I couldn’t help wondering how Steinfeld’s basic perspective, that China wants to be like us – a Chinese version of us anyway, will interact with our apparent unwillingness to have either a coherent energy or climate policy.

    In any case, thanks for the recommendation.

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