Helen’s book pick: We Are the Weather

Title: We Are the Weather, Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Reviewed and recommended by Helen Bryce, GBF director and chair of the Education Committee

In this unsettling and uncertain COVID-19 environment, we are thankful that the majority of society practices “social isolation/physical distancing", that the medical profession bravely carries on treating the infected, that businesses retool to produce what society needs and that governments step up to the challenge of protecting us all. Why then, can we not do the same things to save our planet before we reach “runaway climate change” and nothing can save us?

The coronavirus appeared in our lives post-publication of this book, but in effect, Foer is posing the same question in a myriad of different ways throughout the book. Sighting vast research and astute and very human observations, he makes a compelling case for collective action. Who invented the polio vaccine? Jonas Salk, you might say and you would be right. But who cured polio? No one did. Everyone did.

Picture of book: We Are The Weather

Early in the book he tells the true story of Jan Karski, a Polish Catholic, who in 1942 travelled to America to inform the world leaders of the genocidal Nazi plan to eradicate the Jews known as the Holocaust. After a dangerous journey he arrived in Washington, D.C. where he met with Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of the great legal minds in American history and himself a Jew. Karski described all the horrors of the ghettos, the forced relocations, the extermination camps and after listening carefully and asking detailed questions about what he was hearing from Karski, Justice Franfurter said, “I am unable to believe what you told me … My mind, my heart are all made in such a way that I cannot accept it.”

The moral argument between disbelief and denial courses strongly through the book. Climate change has been factually proven by scientists the world over but we don’t believe it, how are we different from those who deny its existence? “Felix Frankfurter was no better than those who denied the existence of the Holocaust. And when the future distinguishes between these two kinds of denial, which will appear to be a grave error and which an unforgivable crime?”

Apollo 17 astronauts are credited with providing an opportunity to earthlings that we had never had before - photos of our blue marble from outer space, suspended alone in the darkness of space. “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.” Those photos held up a mirror to our fragile planet and suddenly environmentalists were born with a collective desire to protect it.

But what has happened since? We will very soon reach a tipping point of “runaway climate change,” when we will be unable to save ourselves, no matter our efforts.

Foer, like so many others, was emotional and intellectually moved by Alan Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”. However, he takes huge issue with Gore’s glaring omission that, “We cannot save the planet unless we significantly reduce our consumption of animal products.” Gore’s movie does not deal with animal agriculture nor provide the glaring and alarming data, “… that every year, animal agriculture funnels more than seven times that amount of grain and corn—enough to feed every hungry person on the planet—to animals for affluent people to eat. We might call that crime ‘genocide’.”

But reducing our consumption of animal products is an emotional issue, an addiction, for most of us baby boomers raised as meat-eaters. It’s not easy to completely exclude hamburgers, filet mignon, Saint Agur cheese, or fried eggs from our diets!! Foer commiserates with us through his own daily struggles with the undeniable need to change his dietary habits.

Foer shares alarming scientific data, astute observations of human nature and discussions with scientists who categorically agree with the case against eating animal products. But it is much more an exploration of the moral decision facing us today, right now. In his own words, “We cannot keep the kinds of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known. We must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go. It is that straightforward, that fraught”. A sobering challenge to individual and societal conscience …

A little about the reviewer

Helen Bryce is the chair of the GBF Education Committee. We thank her so much for her volunteerism. At GBF, we are always hoping to connect with passionate people. It can even start with a book and author recommendation. If you want to submit one, please contact the education committee for consideration. We are looking for books that tell stories and or provide information that will help to illuminate and engage our fellow Georgian Bayers on protecting the water. Email us with the subject line Book Club Reco at info@gbf.org.