“Use less and share more” is the mantra scientist and author Hope Jahren began to hear as she researched and wrote “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here,” and it is the main point she wants to communicate to readers.
We consume and waste too much, Jahren says, while others go without. But she believes that using less and redistributing the earth’s resources is possible — and essential to our survival.
“There is no magical technology coming to save us from ourselves,” she says. “Curbing consumption will be the ultimate trial of the twenty-first century. Using less and sharing more is the biggest challenge our generation will ever face.”
She doesn’t claim that it will be simple; in fact, she concedes that it is “a bewilderingly difficult proposition.”
But she adds: “It is also the only surefire way that we can start to get ourselves out of this mess.”
Jahren is good at explaining the climate change crisis, and she excels at conjuring relatable images. The book’s chapters, which grew from a college course she developed, are grouped in sections: life, food, energy and earth. Jahren is a conversational writer, and readers learn about her family, her Minnesota childhood, her dog Coco and her move to Norway.
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Jahren holds herself to account as an American. Although we make up only 4% of the world’s population, we consume 15% of the world’s energy and nearly 20% of its electricity. We generate 15% of the world’s organic waste. We eat plentifully while 800 million others are undernourished.
“All of the want and suffering in the world — all of it — arises not from the earth’s inability to produce,” says Jahren, “but from our inability to share.”
Basic biology is front and center in “The Story of More.” Plants use energy from the sun, Jahren reminds us, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Animals eat plants to get the stored energy and release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
That sounds like a balanced equation until you add in fossil fuels. Oil, coal and natural gas are all long-dead plants, and the carbon they hold has been stored beneath the earth’s surface for millions of years. As we burn these fuels, we add extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — a trillion tons just since 1969, Jahren says.
That shift in carbon dioxide concentration is at the root of climate change.
As long ago as 1896, Jahren says, scientists have been sounding the warning about fossil fuels and climate change, and they are still sounding the warning and doing the work required to provide information to citizens and policy makers.
“I am hopeful because my life is filled with people who also care about these issues,” Jahren says. “The smartest people I know are dedicating their lives to gathering the data that will tell us more… This very day, scores of people got to the lab early and will stay late.”
“The Story of More” concludes with an appendix that Jahren calls “The Story of Less.” In it, she prescribes actions for readers who “want to live in a more equitable world with a brighter future,” including examining our values, our food and energy consumption, and our investments.
Jahren’s call to action is urgent, and she doesn’t mince words. But she leaves readers with hope:
“We need everyone, not just scientists, to start thinking about tomorrow,” she says. “We are troubled, we are imperfect, but we are many, and we are doomed only if we believe ourselves to be… Out before us stretches a new century, and its story is still unwritten.”
“The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here,” by Hope Jahren (New York: Vintage Books, 2020; 208 pages)