We Are The Weather reviewed

We Are The Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast by Jonathan Safran Foer. Penguin Random House Canada, 2019. 288 pages.

There is a Planet B. It’s not always easy to see, but it’s out there. Waiting. This isn’t the super-expensive, elitist vision of the late Stephen Hawkings or the multi-billionaire Elon Musk. They thought we’d have to  leave this planet and find another one. The tough part would be finding one with enough gravity to keep our feet on the ground, enough oxygen to keep our lungs functioning, and enough resources to plunder.

We don’t have to go that far. We can remake the one we have. It already exists in our minds and hearts. You might say it’s Earth v. 2.0. It will be powered by renewable energy and fed by sustainable agriculture. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there but the result will be worth the effort.

Jonathan Foer has written a captivating, easy to read book about climate change.  It could probably have been shortened way down. One page could do it. One sentence, even: stop eating animals. Especially stop eating dead cows. As Foer knows, and I know, and you know, that’s not likely going to happen any day soon. We like our burgers. We like the idea of a roast beef and gravy with mashed potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, even though we can’t afford it anymore. We could remortgage the house to get a plate of New Zealand lamb chops.

Convincing people to give up animal products will be about as difficult as getting them to give up petroleum products. Perhaps, as Foer suggests, a good start will be no meat before dinner. No bacon at breakfast. No more ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch. Foer fills his book with tons of statistics, facts and figures that should convince the carnivore crowd to give up their evil ways. Join the herbivore team today and let your great-great-grandchildren have a happy life in the 22nd century.

If only it were that simple.

Foer points out how some of the poorest people in the Indian sub-continent, people with the smallest carbon footprint of all, are in mortal danger from rising sea levels. Foer tells us that “The richest 10 per cent of the global population is responsible for half the carbon emissions; the poorest half is responsible for 10 per cent.” He points to Bangladesh as a prime example. Rising sea levels “could submerge about one-third of the country.” About 25 – 30 million people live there. They are, he says, “paying for a resource-opulent lifestyle that they have never themselves enjoyed.”

While Foer focuses on the consumption of meat, he also hints at a more challenging reality. Over 30  years ago, a burning environmental issue was depletion of the ozone layer. To deal with it, the international community came together in 1987 and signed the Montreal Protocol. Chemicals used in refrigerants, aerosol spays, and some fire extinguishers were phased out and eliminated. Mandatory government regulation worked.

Paradoxically, the late eighties also marked the beginning of the end of government intervention in the global economy. The United States, Great Britain, Canada and most of north-western Europe came under the control of conservative politicians. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Brian Mulroney took us down the slippery slope into privatization, deregulation and globalization. With it came the accelerating environmental disasters we witness now.

There is no doubt that our world will benefit enormously if we cut down on the amount of meat we consume. This is especially true if we limit ourselves to locally and organically raised beef. But there’s more to it than that. Much more. We will not win the sustainability fight until we develop the political courage to reimpose enforceable regulations on industry and reverse the disastrous slide into privatization and globalization.

Thinking locally means doing our bit to reduce our own personal footprints. Acting globally means bringing the international capitalist economic system to heel.