More from Less: A book review by Bob Morris

More from Less: The Surprising Story of How We Learned to Prosper Using Fewer Resources―and What Happens Next
Andrew McAfee
Scribner (October 2008)

How and why human prosperity and planetary health are NOT mutually-exclusive

According to Andrew McAfee, “This book shows that we’ve started getting more from less and tells how how we reached this critical milestone. The strangest aspect of the story is that we didn’t make many radical course changes to eliminate the trade-off between human prosperity and planetary health. Instead, we just got a lot better at doing the things we’d already been doing.”

Actually, that was true centuries ago when innovations such as the wheel, the stirrup, the plow, the printing press, the cotton gin, the reaper, and steam power were introduced. In recent years, as McAfee acknowledges, “in addition to capitalism and tech progress, two other forces have also been essential to allowing us to get more from less. These are [begin italics] public awareness [end italics] of the harms we’re doing to our planet (such as pollution and species loss) and [begin italics] responsive governments [end italics], which act on the desires of their people and put in place sound measures to counteract those harms.”

McAfee explains, “I call tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive government the ‘four horsemen of the optimist.’ When all four are in place, countries can improve both the human condition and the state of nature. When the four horsemen don’t all ride together, people and the environment suffer.”

In McAfee’s opinion, what should people do to help “improve both the human condition and the state of nature”?  Here is a covey of recommendations:

1. Reduce pollution
2. Reduce greenhouse gases
3. Promote nuclear energy
4. Preserve species and habitats
5. Promote genetically modified organisms
6. Fund basic research
7. Promote markets, competition, and work

Obviously, none is a head-snapper.

However, McAfee asserts, “they’re important. Progress in each will greatly improve the human condition and the4 state of nature, While reversals will hurt us and our planet. Second, they’re battlegrounds. In each case influential groups are opposing the [initiatives] I’m recommending. The opponents include governments, business lobbies, and advocacy groups, and they change with each issue. In all cases, though, I think they’re on the wrong side of good ideas and clear evidence. Hence my call for pubic awareness and support.”

The best works of non-fiction tend to be research-driven and that is certainly true of this one. Be sure to check out the abundance of annotated Notes that Andrew McAfee provides on Pages 281-327.

Here’s an insight from Margaret Mead to keep in mind as you absorb and digest all this: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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