On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal

By Naomi Klein. Simon & Schuster, 2019. 320 pages. $27/hardcover; $18/paperback (available in September); $12.99/eBook.

I’ve read several of Naomi Klein’s books and recently heard her speak. I’ve been so impressed with her amazing research; excellent writing; and her focus on ethics, environment, and climate. But this book is different. It’s a compilation of published articles and talks and therefore gives the reader a broad look at her emerging understanding of the challenges human civilization faces. Early in the book, in her introduction, she writes:

Wherever in the world they live, this generation has something in common: they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a lived reality. And not in a few unlucky hot spots, but on every single continent, with pretty much everything unraveling significantly faster than most scientific models had predicted.

Klein covers topics as far-ranging as the dangers of offshore drilling for oil, the role of capitalism in deepening the climate emergency, the dangers of geoengineering, and the work of Pope Francis and his papal encyclical Laudato sì.

She makes her case really personal, giving a detailed account of a vacation with her son and husband at her parents’ home in British Columbia, while 130 fires were raging out of control in the interior of the province. She writes of the darkened sky, the difficulty breathing the smoke-filled air and the resulting fears about their health, the dangers to the forests, and to the health and safety of all those affected by the fires. The writing is obviously heartfelt and made for very compelling reading.

I appreciated learning more about the Leap Manifesto, a 2015 collaboration by Canadian thinkers, which is intended to guide the Canadian government into the new world by eliminating climate change, income inequality, and market globalization. Klein was part of the drafting of the document, which was “an attempt to link ambitious climate action with a transition to a much fairer and more inclusive economy.” This document has been influential in the writing of the Green New Deal here in the United States.

A few consistent themes Klein stresses in the book include converting to renewable energy creates many quality jobs; the climate movement must embrace the issues of income inequality and racism, homophobia, and xenophobia; we must reduce our consumption, both globally and locally; how to help create healthy, local communities; and how to be inclusive in our work. We Friends can embrace all of these ideas, as they so closely resemble our testimonies. I’ll end with this quote:

The truth is that the scientific deadline for deep transformation is so short that if radical change doesn’t roll out every year for the next thirty years, we will have lost the tiny window we have to avert truly catastrophic warming. Treating an emergency like an emergency means all our energies can go into action, rather than into screaming about the need for action, which is what is happening now.

Ruah Swennerfelt is a member of Middlebury (Vt.) Meeting. She and her husband homestead in rural Vermont, attempting to live rightly with joy and awe. She is the former general secretary of Quaker Earthcare Witness and author of Rising to the Challenge: The Transition Movement and People of Faith.

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