Hope Jahren developed the crux of The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where We Go from Here as an introductory class for college students. And fundamentally, it reads this way. There’s a lot of science, some history, a bit of humor, and a smattering of opinion. Is it the best book I’ve read on climate change? No. But if I wanted a book that was fairly short and clearly explained the concepts, this is a good choice.
Jahren covers all the relevant issues, divided in four main sections: Life, Food, Energy, Earth. Within each section are topics such as how we grow grain, raise meat, and find fish. Plenty of the topics center on the “How We Got Here” part of her title, including the way we use electricity, oil, and gas.
The theme in this book is the constant need for more—stuff especially, but also activities that generate carbon dioxide, trash, and other components of climate change. Jahren shines a light on how needing more and more is leading Earth further down the path of climate change. Her premise is that if we just “use less and share more,” we can make a positive impact on our environment. That sounds simple, but she makes it clear it isn’t.
Another through line is her upbringing in the Midwest. Jahren regularly refers readers back to locations—whether a cornfield or a particular city—in that region. This worked for me because I’ve lived in both Missouri and Illinois, among iconic regional places as well as cornfields. I’ll venture to guess that it might not be so easy for someone from another part of the world to relate.
I loved Hope Jahren’s earlier book, the memoir called Lab Girl. That was a very personal and affecting book. This book is a lecture from her professorial self. Jahren has moments of lightness, but more often she is explaining and quoting statistics.
One of her odd quirks is the tendency to quantify things using familiar places. For example, she says, “Fifty years ago, a plot of land the size of a basketball court was required to produce one bushel of corn; today, all that is needed is two parking spaces.” Or another, “This year, the United States will import enough refined table sugar to fill Yankee Stadium three times over.” Some choices will be more relatable to the average reader than others.
Jahren also has opinions about everything, from cars (which she thinks are “a murderous joy-sucking plague on the human species”) to organic foods. But her reactions to various common behaviors don’t make this more of a personal book. Instead, they make me feel judged and weary of her sense of superiority.
One thing I’m curious about too is how Jahren’s experience as a resident of Norway has changed her perspective on climate change. But she only throws in a sentence here and there about the Norwegian way of handling the issue of “more.” Perhaps it’s another book entirely, but it’s one I’d consider reading.
All in all, this wasn’t a captivating book for me and I struggled to finish. It was mostly introductory in nature and tries to cover a plethora of subjects in relatively few pages. I preferred The End of Ice by Dahr Jamail because it has more of a personal feel while still following science. Perhaps the two would work in a pair.