The Story of More
Climate change has become one of many sources of existential dread that I share with my generation, albeit one that I was slow to understand. Growing up in a conservative evangelical context, global warming was right up there with evolution in terms of science that was treated as if it contested the nature of God, his creation, and humanity’s place within it. Combined with teachers that were shy about the realities of our earth’s sickness and our hand in its decay, our plight was fuzzy to me, at best.
Yet activism and justice (social, environmental, political) are in the water now — albeit often diluted and consumed in the form of social media. The United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was another Trump decision to throw on the pile of his wrongdoings. The March for Science is now a three-year-old movement to use science for the common good and spur change. Natural disasters are now frequently linked to “weirding weather.” And yet, while I know climate change denial is an ostrich’s approach to problem solving, my knowledge on what the Paris Agreement says, what the March for Science marches for, or the cause-and-effect behind why the weather is now weird is embarrassingly limited. I’ve been drawing lines in the sand about “good” and “bad” approaches to our natural world without real knowledge, which is a lousy and ineffective place to try and enact change from.
Hope Jahren’s The Story of More is a wonderful primer on our natural history and how we got ourselves into the mess we’re in. By seamlessly weaving chatty stories about growing up in the American Midwest with no-nonsense, no-jargon statistics, Hope expertly guides us through Climate Science 101 less like a lecturing professor (though she is that) and more like a wise and smart friend. For nearly the entire book, she simply presents her findings without bias or interpretation — with a brief break in character to rant about how much she hates cars — seemingly trusting that we can wrestle with the implications ourselves. She shows us that it all boils down to some basic fundamentals: how many of us there are, the food we eat and where it comes from, the energy we use and how we produce it, and, finally, how all of that affects the natural world we live in.
The idea of scaring the public for the sake of scaring it scares me… People don’t make good decisions out of fear, history seems to have shown, and at least some of the time, people who are afraid are also prone to doing nothing… My own goal is to inform you, not to scare you, because teaching has taught me to know and respect the difference. I’ve found that fear makes us turn away from the issue whereas information draws us in.
— The Story of More, pages 139–140.
The Story of More is the story of our relentless pursuit of more food, more energy, more variety, more transportation, more possessions, more comfort. Conservation was discarded in favor of efficiency; instead of targeting “more for less”, we pursued “much more for more”. This mix of scientific findings and historical narrative is powerful and helped me understand modern first-world life in new ways.
In the appendix entitled “The Story of Less,” Hope offers some reflection questions on how we each can use less and share more. There are no cut and dry answers (and, as it turns out, there are more problems than any one of us could solve alone), but she provides a framework that gave me clarity beyond the behavior and tone matching of today’s armchair activism. I’m very thankful for her voice.