It has been a while since my last blog post in this second decade of the 21st century. We have all been occupied with the Covid 19 virus and finding time to read anything besides escapist literature has been difficult along with trying to keep a little subsistence farm afloat but winter has hit the Wyoming mountains early and with the landscape turning snowy dark and deep, I am finding time to reflect upon these changes to our region and the planet. This book by Hope Jahren PhD, a Minnesotan living in Norway was a pleasant perspective.
Hope Jahren PhD is an utterly engaging and easy to read author of scientific subjects. Her first Book “Lab Girl” was a NYT bestseller dealing with her scientific and teaching career.
The Story of More is her latest short book published this year(2020). The sub title”How we got to climate change and where to go from here” is in some ways incomplete but I’ll give you her slow to evolve conclusions: Burning fossil fuels releasing carbon dioxide is generating global warming. ‘’ll also give you her “where to go from here” segment: USE LESS and SHARE MORE.”:
The structure of the book is uniquely hers if not anthropocentric. She was born in 1969 in a small town in southern Minnesota whose economy had one big employer, the “Hog Kill”, a meat processor operating in a rural region encircled by Corn and soybean fields. She uses her 51 years to show how the world had changed in her 51 years. Early in the book she said we have 4 resources: “Earth, the sky, the ocean and ourselves”. This is not a unique idea as the ancients said the key elements were earth, air, fire, and water. Notice that the ancients did not consider “ourselves” an important element nor do I. I regard “ourselves” as part of the problem.
Hope breaks her book into 4 parts: (1)Life, who, how and where we are
(2)Food: for these inhabitants: grains, meat fish. (3) Energy: and its impacts on us and the planet and and (4) more impacts on same, including melting icecaps, rising seas, changing weather etc..
Her book is an extensive data recital of human resource consumption of the planet and the alterations it has induced. She uses no footnotes but offers a complete source list of her data at the end of the book, She includes no graphs or pictures which might have been useful. Her writing style is conversational and digresses at times into her upbringing and teaching and research career and unrelated topics such as her chapter on high fructose corn syrup and its impact on diet and health.
Her conclusions and recommendations at the end mirror the title. She says that the world population has doubled since she was born in 1969 and that it will probably “never have less than 7 billion people.” Her recommendation to solve these looming risks to the planet are an egalitarian sharing of these resources as a means of combating inequality of access to opportunity, health, education and communal happiness. It is a sunny view of life reflecting her optimistic outlook.
I feel that as a reviewer I must point out shortcomings and omissions in her treatise.
My biggest critique of her book is that while she has an entire section dealing with Energy, she misses its significance on how it altered the world in the last 250 years of the Industrial Revolution. She misses the WHY and HOW of the changes on the earth wrought by the availability of the unexpected but the all too brief energy bonanza of fossil fuels. For example the population explosion occurred first and foremost because of the availability of industrial food production, processing, and distribution of food and goods made possible by the concentrated energy of Oil, particularly diesel oil. She also makes the common mistake of how many of these fossil resources remain to be discovered and consumed as she conflates “resources” and “reserves.” Nowhere in the book does she address the Economy and the role of energy. Bluntly, Energy IS the Economy and energy consumption is the root of all the positive and negative changes it has made to the human civilization and the natural world. She may very well be aware of all of this but it is absent from the book. She entirely lacks an ecological perspective of the world and all its living components such as the concept of “carrying capacity” or “Overshoot and collapse.” Reference her statement that “The earth may never have less than 7 billion people.” Hope Jahren gets many factors well integrated into her arguments but her naively optimistic Kumbaya conclusions at the end of the book were unconvincing to this reader.