Book Review: Sustainability Edition!

Title: We Are the Weather

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Year Published: 2019

We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer is an analysis of how our actions, particularly our dietary choices, directly affect the planet’s climate through a very human lens. Although Foer is a practicing vegetarian, and has been for a while, he delves into how he sometimes still tends to make choices that negatively impact the environment even though he has the knowledge, power, and passion to choose differently. As someone who claims to care very deeply for the natural environment, and has published several books on the subject, he begs the question that is most likely preventing substantial environmental change: Why do people who care so much about the planet still deliberately act against it? Is it the culture we have been brought up in? Is it a matter of socioeconomic privilege and availability, or lack thereof, of knowledge about the issue? Or perhaps do we just not care as much as we claim to? Foer continually makes the argument that while he does do more for the environment than most people, his sporadic mistakes may completely negate the rest of his efforts. I would argue that his additional efforts are in no way dismissable because he, on occasion, consumes beef or other animal byproducts, as one of the main arguments of the entire environmental movement is to decrease, not completely eliminate, consumption of products that are harmful to the planet. 

However, revisiting the question of why those who care about the wellbeing of Earth still actively act against it; Foer makes a compelling argument early on in the book, comparing fighting global climate change to fighting a war, “When the planetary crisis matters to us all, it has the quality of a war being fought over there. We are aware of the existential stakes and the urgency, but even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel immersed in it. That distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people– people who want to act– to act”, (Foer, 13). In the Western world, and America especially I would argue, the general mindset is that all of these looming issues are “over there”, as he puts it. We don’t feel their urgency until they impact us directly on an individual level. Even calling it an environmental crisis makes it seem as though it is nature’s problem, and not mankinds’ problem, which it also is. We have come to accept the increased threats and danger of climate change as simply “the weather” and the taxing means of combating climate change as part of life. An analogy I like to use for climate change is: Think of your house, with everyone you love inside of it. Now think, if there were a bear outside your house, terrorizing you and your loved ones and putting them all in danger, would you spend millions and millions of dollars on ammunition or building a moat, all while still feeding the bear? Or would you use what you already have to get rid of it? There must be a collective effort made by all people to tackle climate change at the source of the issue, rather than spending all of our resources to alleviate the after effects. 

This collective effort, Foer argues, is entirely possible, with the help of a few key players. Anytime in the past century that America has entered a war, the country as a whole has garnered all of the support and resources it possibly can to claim victory. So why not implement those same efforts in regards to climate change? Why do we only create big change when it suits the American political agenda? With combined efforts of the government, mass media companies, and citizens alike, America has accomplished great things and we currently have the opportunity to add tackling climate change to that list. Placing a price control on coal, limiting meat intake, regulation on gasoline prices, and carbon tax deals are all solutions with the potential to cure our sick planet, we just have to act. Many view these actions as some kind of sacrifice, but should there come a day when we can tell our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren how we were able to put our differences, and conveniences, and selfishness aside to save our only true home, as Foer says, “We shall have made no sacrifice at all”. 

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