Name: The Story of More
Author: Hope Jahren
Personal Rating: 4/5
Here are my book highlights and key takeaways. Most of these are direct quotes from the book.
Over the course of the last 40 years, the global population has doubled yet again. Today, we share the world with over 7 billion people.
Societies that feature a low gender gap are also populated by women who give birth, on average, half as often as women who live in societies with a high gender gap.
It makes sense that the most effective and long-lasting mechanism for curbing global population growth resolves around the elimination of gender inequality.
Most of the suffering that we see in our world today originates not from Earth’s inability to provide but from our instability to share. It is because so many of us consume far beyond our needs that a great many more of us are left with almost nothing.
The enormous consumption of food and fuel by just 10% of us is actively threatening Earth’s ability to produce the basics of life for the other 90%.
How did we come to be growing three times more food on only 10% more land? The answer has to do with gigantic increases in yield — the amount of grain produced per footprint of soil.
With very, very few exceptions, every farm field on planet Earth produces at least twice as much food today compared with the 1960s.
We feed plants better now than we did then, we protect them better, and we have improved the plants themselves.
The compound glyphosate is the number one pesticide used in the United States.
Our farm fields are now more drenched in pesticides than at any point in history.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that glyphosate (Roundup) is a “probably human carcinogen” leading to an increased incidence of cancers.
If you’d like to pay more for a food item that is exactly as nutritious as its conventional counterpart, the “USDA organic” label allows you to do just that.
Certification as “organic” is designed to help “restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony”. Independent researchers did find that the level of residue from the most toxic pesticides in use today is much lower on organic than on conventional products.
We do a lot of things with the grain that we grow in the Heartland, but we don’t much feed it to people.
Human consumption of corn uses up only 10% of the US annual harvest.
Half of the remainder (that is, 45% of the corn that will be planted, fertilized, and harvested this year) will never be eaten by any living creature. Out of the other half, more than one billion bushels — enough to feed one hundred million people for an entire year — will be converted directly into manure.
These days it is exceptionally rare for an American to meet her meat, even though on average she eats ten food items derived from meat every single day.
The slaughter mostly takes place within an airport-sized building, and huge swaths of the country specialize in different types of killing.
30 million cattle are slaughtered each year in the Great Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas.
A whopping 9 BILLION chickens are slaughtered each year across the Feater Belt that stretches from Arkansas to Georgia.
120 million pigs are slaughtered each year in the upper midwest states that surround Iowa.
Since 2011, global production of meat has exceeded 300 million tons per year.
To get twice as much beef, we slaughter only half as many cattle as we did in 1969; to get four times more pork, we butcher only three times more pigs; to get ten times more chicken meat, we slaughter only six times more chickens.
Every single cow, pig, and chicken slaughtered the world over is, on average, between 20 and 40% bigger than it was in 1969.
A full 30% of the freshwater used by humans on planet Earth is spent in the production, maintenance, and slaughter of meat animals.
As of 1990, two-thirds of the antibiotics used in the United States are fed to meat animals, ostensibly to promote growth and decrease mortality.
The main thing that you must pump into an animal in order to produce meat, however, is grain. More than 60 billion bushels of grain — mostly corn, soybeans, and wheat — are fed to meat animals every single year.
It is possible to minimize the loss of food energy by restricting movement, which has given rise to battery cages and gestation crates.
As a species, human beings will slaughter six times more animals for their meat this year than they did back in 1969, and a full 10% of this killing will take place in the United States.
If every American but their red meat and poultry intake by half — down from 4 to 2 pounds a week — it would free up 150 million tons of grain.
The grain not used to make unnecessary meat for Americans would increase the world’s food grain supply by a respectable 15%
Less Meat can help with Starvation
Most consumption happens in the 36 OECD countries (including North America, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan). If these countries together decreased their meat consumption by half, the world’s food-grain supply would get bumped up by almost 40%.
Or to put it another way: If the entire OECD adopted the habit of just one meatless day per week, an extra 120 million tons of grain would be available to feed the hungry this very year.
Starvation is caused by our failure to share what we produce, not by the earth’s ability to provide.
Sooner or later we will have to reconsider the fact that every year, we actively waste 90% of the grain we feed to animals, in exchange for a little meat and a lot of manure.
More than 90% of the salmon produced in Norway is exported, mostly to the European Union and particularly to France.
In the 1970s, the global annual production of Atlantic salmon was consistently about 13 thousand tons per year. Today, global production is getting close to 33 million tons — which means that production has increased by more than 20,000%.
How could we achieve this? Atlantic salmons no longer come from the sea. They are farmed. This is how “aquaculture” was born. These creatures are grown in a cage, a pen, a net, or a lagoon, and farmed.
Between 1990 and today, global seafood production has doubled, but the amount of fish pulled from the ocean has not changed. More than half of the fish eaten worldwide is now produced through aquaculture.
To supply this protein, aquaculture facilities use a feed made from smaller fish that have been cooked, pressed, dried, and ground into meals. All of these small fish come from the open ocean.
To get one pound of Salmon, you need three pounds of fish meal. To get a pound of fish meal, you need to grind up five pounds of fish. Thus, each pound of cage-raised salmon “costs” 15 pounds of fish from the ocean.
The story of aquaculture is simply that of meat production, only underwater. As such, it echoes the story of meat production on land: the diversion of massive resources through a small space confining millions of animals who live short lives that end in our bellies. And, as with meat, every bite of fish we do not take could free up many bites of food for someone else.
HFCS = High Fructose Corn Syrup.
One out of every three calories from the sugar in the American diet is consumed as HFCS.
The steep increase in HFCS consumption from basically nothing during the 1970s up to almost 10% of total calories by the year 2000 has closely coincided with Americans’ sharp increase in weight over the same several decades.
It is not clear that HFCS is worse for your diet than table sugar, but it is clear that table sugar and HFCS are both worse for you than eating nothing.
The more we eat, the more we waste. In 1970, each American wasted one-third pound of food each day, on average. Today, that figure is two-thirds of a pound.
20% of what American families send to the landfill each day is, or recently was perfectly edible food.
The magnitude of our global waste is in many ways equal to our needs.
The amount of total grain that is wasted is close to the annual food supply of grain available in India. The amount of fruits and vegetables that are wasted each year exceeds the annual food supply of fruits and vegetables for the entire continent of Africa.
Almost 90% of the energy used on Earth comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
Of all the fossil fuels burned each year, 40% is oil, 30% is coal, and another 30% is natural gas.
The world’s total proven oil reserves constitute a fifty-year supply, given today’s rate of oil use; similarly, the total proven reserves of natural gas would also last 50 years if it burned at today’s rate.
The world’s proven coal reserves are much larger: they would take about 150 years to burn through at the current rate of use.
If we want human society to outlast the finite resource that it is dependent upon, then any movement away from fossil fuels is a step in the right direction and one that can’t happen too soon.
Half of the world’s oil and gas reserves can be found within the borders of the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia as the leader of the pack. In contrast, fully half of the world’s oil and gas is used within the nations of the OECD.
The United States has met more than 90% of its energy needs during the last 50 years by burning fossil fuels. We are now and have been for decades, heavily dependent upon the Middle East for our most basic source of fuel.
Even after taking into account the rocks beneath Texas, America is not an oi-rich nation: the proven oil reserves of the United States amount to less than 3% of the global total.
The vast majority of the biofuels produced and used in the world come from just three geographic regions: the United States and its corn-based ethanol, Brazil and its sugarcane-based ethanol, and the European Union’s soy-canola-based biodiesel.
There’s an additional ethical consideration with biofuels, in that using them really does amount to torching a massive pile of food inside the engines of many vehicles.
Plastic is another derived product from oil.
One of the major by-products of any oil refinery is something called “petrochemical feedstock”, the raw material from which plastic is made.
On average, a person living within the OECD discards just over his or her body weight in plastic every single year, and despite burgeoning efforts to recycle, more than 90% of it is simply dumped into the landfill.
Almost 10% of the plastic that we throw away eventually finds its way out to sea, where it has congregated into massive floating rafts of trash that perpetually swirl atop the oceanic gyres.
Almost all of the world’s plastic is manufactured from oil, and oil is used to fuel the factories where it is produced. Making plastic accounts for 10% of all the fossil fuels burned on planet Earth every single year.
Hydroelectric power plants generate only 18% of the world’s electricity.
The total wind-powered electricity generated in a year amounts to less than 4% of the total electricity that is consumed around the world.
Concentrated solar power accounts for less than 1% of all the electricity generated each year on planet Earth.
Wind and solar power put together, provide less than 5% of the electricity used on planet Earth.
Entirely switching over to renewables at their present rate of efficiency is, unfortunately, a pipe dream.
The increase in carbon dioxide over the last 50 years is scary.
The average global surface temperature has increased more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit during the last 100 years.
Fiscal cycles turn faster than biogeochemical cycles, and there is no industrial profit to be made in pushing a Story of Less.
Scientists have predicted all kinds of calamity at two degrees Celsius warming — including catastrophic heat waves, droughts, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, crop failures, and a lot of other things.
The global temperature rise is melting the world’s ice.
On average, the earth’s glaciers have been losing ice since at least the 1970s, and this melting trend has accelerated over the last 10 years.
The Arctic melting season still begins near the first of June, but the date of refreezing keeps getting pushed back as temperatures rise. In the 1970s, the melting season ended in September; nowadays it doesn’t end until October.
That extra month of melting translates into one fewer month of accumulation. The sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean has thinned dramatically and its edges are breaking up, which is very bad news for polar bears, who need, among other things, somewhere to stand.
The global sea level has not only risen, but the process of rising is also accelerating.
About half of the global sea-level rise that has occurred during the last 50 years is due to water added to the ocean from melting glaciers. The other half of the sea-level rise is due to the warming of ocean surface waters.
More than 3 inches of the total global sea level rise came just from the swelling of a warmer ocean.
Sea level rise will likely displace thousands of people during the next 100 years and make drinking the local water and farming the adjacent fields impossible for many thousands more. These effects will hit worst in areas where the land is low or sinking and where people are too poor to undertake construction measures.
The river-delta nation of Bangladesh lies just barely above sea level. If the sea continues to rise, the area of Bangladesh is likely to shrink by 20% over the next 30 years.
Incidentally, the people of Bangladesh produced far less than 1% of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere during the last 50 years, yet they are poised to pay the highest price incurred by its effect.
The people benefitting from the use of fossil fuels are not the people who suffer the most from its excess.
Energy conservation by its very definition requires the least effort of any approach.
It is a strong lever by which we could pull ourselves back into alignment with a future that our grandchildren might survive.
There’s only one problem: driving less, eating less, buying less, making less, and doing less will not create new wealth.
Consuming less is not a technology that can be sold or a new product that can be marketed, and acting as if it can be is absurd.
It is no use pretending that conserving resources isn’t at direct odds with the industries that helped to write our /Story of More/ and that increasing consumption over the last 50 years wasn’t tightly coupled to the pursuit of more profit, more income, more wealth.
It’s time to look around and ask ourselves if this coupling is truly the only way to build a civilization, because the assumption that it is may represent the greatest threat of all.
Each one of us must privately ask ourselves when and where we can consume less instead of more, for it is unlikely that business and industry will ever ask on our behalf.
We, the 20% of the globe that uses most of its resources, must begin to detox from this consumption, or things will never get better.
Every meal we eat, every mile we travel, and every dollar we spend presents us with a choice between using more energy than we did last time or less. You have power. How will you use it?