We Are The Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer


In We Are The Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer reflects on the climate crisis from a deeply personal level. The book’s title implies that collective individual actions on a socio-political level will translate into reducing the impact of climate change. For him, it means better choices from the food we eat at breakfast and which will cascade to other actions throughout the day.


In his earlier non-fiction work Eating Animals, he tackles his shift to a plant-based diet and his commitment to do better for the environment. However, he did not count on the visible and invisible obstacles that he would encounter with his new lifestyle. Throughout this book, readers will see his struggles with eco-cognitive dissonance: the discomfort we feel when our actions are not aligned with our views or beliefs about the environment.

He gives the poignant example of the encounter between Jan Karksi, a Catholic and member of the Polish underground movement and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, a great American legal mind and a non-observant Jew. When Karski told him about the atrocities in Europe during WWII, Frankfurter admitted that he was persuaded and horrified but there was nothing that he could do. Rather, he admitted not only his inability to believe the truth but his awareness of that inability. Frankfurter’s conscience was not shaken.

Foer sees a huge disconnect between knowledge and emotions when it comes to climate change issues. Like Justice Frankfurter, we have intellectually accepted the reality of climate change but we do not believe it. Hence we have relegated it to the realm of science fiction. While he concurs with Prof. Daniel Kahneman that to mobilise people, climate change has to be an emotional issue, he also sees the limitations of relying on emotions:

 [Clearly] facts are not enough to mobilize us. But what if we can’t summon and sustain the necessary emotions? I’ve wrestled with my own responses to the planetary crisis. It feels obvious to me that I care more about the fate of the planet, but if time and energy invested are expressions of caring, it’s undeniable that You can more about the fate of a specific baseball team on the planet, my childhood-hometown Washington Nationals. It feels obvious to me that I am not a climate-change denier, but it is undeniable that I behave like one.

Caring about the planet may come more easily to some than others. To which Foer states: ” Motivation can beget action, but more remarkably action can also beget motivation. We don’t trek to the desert to look up to the stars just because we are feeling spiritual. We feel spiritual because we are in the desert looking at the stars.”

He also warns that ” Too often, the feeling of making difference doesn’t correspond to the difference made-worse, an inflated sense of accomplishment can relieve the burden of doing what actually needs to be done.” For instance, believing that one can continue consuming plastic goods because they have access to recycling. However, plastic is actually recycled much less than we think. Another example is opting to impulsively buy secondhand buying second-hand or ethical brands over fast fashion without addressing deeper issues of consumerism.

While people or organisations with greater muscle such as large corporations and governments, individuals also have their hand in making a difference. Their actions include change of lifestyle choices; voting with their money and their political voices especially now in the #BlackLivesMatter era when many corporations are being “unmasked”.

We are the Weather is structured interestingly. In the beginning, he uses continuous prose, then in the second section, he ays out the facts in bullet points so that he doesn’t want to “bore” the reader’ but also a handy way of memorising them. Halfway through the book, he dives into a soliloquy which exposes the inner struggles of most people at the onset of their eco-conscious journey.

This book is persuasively written and shed some light on historical events that I didn’t have in-depth knowledge of as a non-North American reader. Foer does a wonderful job of these anecdotes with efforts being made towards addressing climate change. Most people recall Rosa Parks as the first woman arrested for refusing to change bus seats in Montgomery, AL and not Claudette Colvin who had done so nine months earlier. Parks (forty-two, married and from a respected background)had a more palatable background and story than Colvin (fifteen, pregnant with an older man’s child and from a poor family). He uses this analogy to drive the point that humans want to believe good things to explain their current state. Hence, most attempts to narrativize the climate crisis are either science fiction or dismissed as science fiction.

There are times that readers will feel like they are peeking into his journal as he brutally assesses his efforts toward making eco-friendly changes, which you will clearly see in his dispute with his soul. People dealing with eco-anxiety and cognitive dissonance will relate to his feelings about not doing enough for the planet.

This climate crisis offers humans the opportunity to make better decisions about the planet and the legacy they would like to leave for future generations. Foer offers this piece of advice to himself and to us:

Building a new structure requires architects, and often it requires dismantling the existing structures in the way, even if we have grown accustomed to seeing them that we no longer see them at all.

Photo Credit: Unsplash | Book Cover: Goodreads

Originally published on LinkedIn

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